Showing posts with label relational. Show all posts
Showing posts with label relational. Show all posts

30 December 2009

Church of Two (CO2)

At the House2House Conference in Dallas in September, John White demonstrated Church of Two (CO2). Sharing an experienceWe all had a chance to try an aspect of it for ourselves, there and then. I was immediately convinced of the value of CO2 itself and of its constituent parts, SASHET and VIRKLER. Read more about CO2, SASHET, and VIRKLER on the CO2 Flyer.

In early December I began CO2 with a house church friend, Sean. After the first week we were clear that we very much wanted to continue, and after three weeks we both agree that our relationship with one another and our relationships with the Lord are deepening noticeably.

Because we can't meet face-to-face every day we decided to use Google Wave as our primary CO2 channel and I can tell you it works very well indeed. It's much better for this purpose than email. We create a new wave each day and we use clickable links to connect the days together, with an overall index to keep things organised. If we both happen to be online at the same time we can each see the other typing right on the screen. And when we're online at different times we can both add comments and make additions. Google Wave is a bit like email, instant messaging, and a wiki all rolled into one - but better than any of them alone.

Our experiences are similar to those reported by others commenting on 'Stories from the Revolution'. I had expected CO2 to be good, but it was trying it out for myself over a period of days that really convinced me. It's sometimes been difficult to keep going on a daily basis, but it is so worth the effort. My advice - don't give up, keep on keeping on and you will benefit.

Even if you don't have a partner for CO2, I would recommend doing the VIRKLER and SASHET exercises on your own each day. You will still see some useful benefit. But working in pairs or small groups will amplify the value greatly.

VIRKLER (particularly the hearing and journaling aspects) has deepened my awareness of the Lord's constant presence in my life.

SASHET has brought us closer to one another in mutual understanding, respect and trust.

As we pray with and for one another in the light of hearing the Lord's direction to each of us, I'm fully convinced we'll be led into church life and sharing the gospel in ways we could hardly have imagined at first.

In mid December I shared the idea of CO2 with the Christian Union at work and this is likely to lead to at least one more pair. Then this morning I did a first CO2 session with Paul, a friend from a different local gathering, and we'll try it for a week. I also expect to demonstrate CO2 to a group of friends some miles further west. And finally there's an opportunity opening up to begin sharing CO2 with a friend in the USA.

CO2 is not an end in itself. It is, however, a really useful framework for hearing from the Lord and at the same time developing broader and deeper relationships between individuals. In this way it stimulates spiritual growth and can act as both a building block for church and a platform for sharing the gospel. What a versatile tool!

Note: For a more recent update on CO2 see my article at 'All About Jesus'.

05 March 2009

Report from Chepstow

We gathered from a wide area to join Mark and Mandy Cutliffe at the Bulwark Community Centre in Chepstow on 28th February. Between them they had organised 'Breathing Space', The Bulwark Community Centrea simple program that gave us all a chance to mingle for a prolonged period over coffee, share a meal, and then settle to an afternoon of interesting and challenging discussion.

Time to meet - It was great to have ample time to meet and chat informally. Often when we meet the program is so full that we struggle to get to know one another in brief interludes between packed sessions.

The video - In the afternoon session we watched the 'Church Planting Movement' video and then moved into a discussion on 'organic church'.

You can watch the video for yourself below. It focuses on rapid, multiplicative growth, you can learn more about this from the International Mission Board's website.

Some questions and answers - Mark encouraged us to ask questions about 'organic church', he wrote five of these at the top of sheets on a flipchart Chatting over a coffeeand then we set about answering our own questions. Although we didn't have time to consider all the questions the process did help me to think more deeply about the topic. It was a very useful afternoon.

There are two caveats as you read the list. It's not exactly what was on the flip charts because it's based on what I scribbled down at the time. And some of the points may not make sense unless you were there for the discussion. Even so, I hope they will provoke useful thoughts as you read (and perhaps pray) your way through them.
  1. What is an organic church?
    • A living organism
    • An organism, not an organisation
    • DNA, constituents, what would happen if you grew a tomato in a rigid box?*
    • Not contaminated by anything man-made
    • Growing, changing, having fruit

  2. How have organic churches started?**
    • By the power and prompting of the Holy Spirit
    • Because of persecution
    • As a result of relationships
    • Hunger for 'something more'
    • A reaction to disappointment with existing churches

  3. What on earth are we doing?
    • Why do we need another expression of church?
    • One size fits all
    • Is it sustainable long term?

  4. How do we define success?
    • To produce successful offspring that can reproduce
    • Helping people follow Jesus
    • What has God told you to do?
    • Walk with God
    • What has he called you to do?
    • Who has he called you to be?

* The tomato in a box refers to a thought we had that the tomato plant's DNA controls the shape, colour, flavour and other characteristics of the fruit it bears. But if you put a rigid box around the small fruit as it grows, although the flavour and colour would remain unchanged, the mature fruit could never be the intended shape.

There's a parallel with the church where the DNA of Christ controls much, but our artificial constraints can affect the shape of its expression. Think about that!

** This is really about gathering together because we're excited about Jesus.

21 December 2008

The Drew Marshall Show

Drew Marshall presents a Christian chat show in Canada. He has the most amazing guests and some truly extraordinary conversations. The Drew Marshall Show
And most of them are available online, not only live but as a library of MP3 files for download.

I encourage you to go and listen.

As a starter you might like to try one or more of these...

Drew has such a wonderful, relaxed, jokey yet serious manner. He puts everyone at ease and his guests just settle down and talk openly and easily. Despite his chilled manner, Drew asks some very direct questions and expects straightforward answers. This is radio interviewing at its best.

But to see the full breadth of the interviews you need to go to the show's website and browse around a bit. Once there, click the 'Listen' button just below the banner and you'll find a page for each year. Each of these pages is filled with interview notes and links to MP3s, you'll need to scroll and scroll to see it all.

The files are added to the website once a week, six or seven days after each show goes out.

Hint: Do you have to drive to work every weekday? Many of us do. Download some of the MP3s, load them onto an MP3 player or cut them to CD and listen as you drive. The journey will fly by, I guarantee it.

29 November 2008

Salvation and unity

Two items that appeared in my email inbox this morning encouraged me to write something myself. One was a blog post by Prayeramedic, the other an email from 'The School of Christ'. Meeting togetherThe blog post questions the process by which people are encouraged to join the Church, the email questions our idea of unity within the Church.

They are strong messages and they demand that each of us consider where we stand on these important issues.

The two messages
Prayeramedic pulls us up short when he writes on 'The Heresy of the Sinner's Prayer'...
I'm not saying it's wrong to use a prayer to help people confess Christ, but to convince people that they are saved simply because they pray a prayer is ridiculous -- it is not the Gospel of the Scripture. This runs deep, it runs at the heart of how the Church never talks about sin anymore.

Chip Brogden ('The School of Christ') also yanks on our reins when he writes on 'Spiritual Unity'...
People will pick up on this phrase, "that they may all be one", and try to create a unity that embraces everyone equally, no matter what they teach, what they believe, or how they live. In this false unity, every path to God becomes a valid path of spiritual expression and should not be criticized. Of course this contradicts what Jesus had just said about Himself being the only Way to the Father, but it certainly makes it easier for us to create unity for everyone. Is that what Jesus wants - quick and easy unity through compromise and concession?

What are we to make of these messages? Are these challenges valid? Does it matter?

Their validity
I believe the challenges are valid and it matters very much indeed. In the first case, unless we understand what Christ did and why, we cannot fully engage with the process of becoming a believer. And in the second case, if we don't understand what Christ meant by 'being one' we will stand very little chance of living in unity as he intended it.

In both cases we see that there is the same principle at work. Either we understand what Yahshua said in his terms, or we see it on our own terms. If we see his words through our own wisdom we are certain to miss the point. And these are two very important points indeed. We need to be sure that we are walking in his powerful light, not merely in the darkness of our own intellect and emotion.

This is not about what we would prefer, it's about the facts as they have been explained to us by the One who really knows.

In Romans 8:1-17 Paul writes about living in the Spirit of Christ. In verse 9 he writes, 'If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ' (emphasis mine).

Chip Brogden quotes from Yahshua's amazing prayer in John 17:20-26. The prayer is intended to include today's believers, this is clear from verse 20, 'I pray also for those who will believe in me through [my disciples'] message'. And he wants us to be one in the same way that he and the Father are one (verse 21).

So it's impossible to deny that unless we have the Spirit of Christ we do not even belong to him, but also that if we do have the Spirit of Christ we will be drawn into oneness with Yahshua, with the Father, and with one another.

Reasoning it out
Why is this? It is because if I am in Christ I must have his Spirit in me. I cannot be in him unless he is also in me! This is salvation, to have his Spirit in me.

And if I am in Christ and he is in me, then where he is I am also. And as he is in the Father and the Father is in him, I too must also be in the Father and the Father in me! And as the Spirit of Christ is the Holy Spirit, if Christ is in me the Holy Spirit is in me too.

So now we can see that the Father, the Son and the Spirit are one, and all of us who believe are also one because we are all in Christ together. We can't help but be one. So our unity is not dependent on our will or attainment, but like salvation itself it depends only on being in Christ.

So the Kingdom of Heaven is not something to be attained, and it's not a place we will go when we die, the Kingdom is the place of unity with the Father, with the Son, with the Spirit, and with one another. The Kingdom of Heaven is here right now and it's attained solely by the will and purpose of the Father.

The purpose of unity
But there is one final point. What is the purpose of the Father in all of this? To find out we need to look again at John 17:23, 'May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me'.

There we have it. The unity has a function. It's so that the world will know that the Father sent the Son and loves us the same way he loves the Son. The unity is there to stand as evidence, but not just any old unity will do. 'Complete unity' is what the Almighty is looking for in his people, absolute unity with him and with one another.

14 November 2008

Release it and let it fly

Have you ever held a wild bird in your hands? It's an extraordinary experience, the soft warmth of the feathers, the bright, shiny eyes, A blackbirdthe quivering of life held captive and quietly biding its time until it can be free again.

Some people keep birds as pets - budgies, parakeets, canaries, or finches. My first wife and I had three budgies over the years and it was a great way to get to know their individual personalities and foibles as well as the more general awesomeness of minutely patterned feathers and the miracle of flight.

But a wild bird held in the hand and then released to freedom, that is something altogether different.

First catch a bird - This is no easy task! Nor would I encourage anyone to try to catch a wild bird, it is certain to cause distress and perhaps injury. But several times I've had to catch a bird that's been accidentally trapped in a building. I've found that a quiet approach is best, confining the bird in a corner and cupping my hands around it gently and slowly has always worked in the end.

I remember this happening at Long Ashton Research Station (now long gone). I worked there from 1970 until 1998, there was an upstairs corridor bridging two of the main buildings and I found a frightened male blackbird trapped there when I came in to work one Saturday - there was nobody else around. The corridor had glass sides and doors at either end that were usually kept closed. The bird flew up and down the corridor and then backed into a corner where I was able to catch him quite easily.

Release - I carried the warm, passive bundle downstairs and out to the main entrance. I set him down on the concrete steps just outside the lobby, he looked around for a moment, spread his wings, and flew away squawking madly. What a joy to see him go, free again at last!

Even more delightful was the immediate appearance of a hen blackbird, evidently his mate. I have no idea how long the sleek, black male had been trapped, but she had hung around waiting for his return. And now, here he was, none the worse for his ordeal.

Freedom for the Church - There's a reason for relating this story just now. Just this morning I read a post by Prayeramedic on The Irony of Actuality. He writes,

I've been reading some more Kierkegaard -- very deep stuff, but profound (when I can make sense of it).

After showing that he has indeed made very good sense of Kierkegaard's words he quotes from another post entitled Uncontrollable. In it, Daniel writes,

Lately, we've been remarking on just how many different people we keep coming across, different spheres of where God is stirring things up, challenging his people to question the status quo, and ask Him once again how it is that He wants us to live as His disciples. What is so remarkable is that the more we scan the horizon, the more we begin to glimpse the scope and the massive scale of this response to the Spirit's prompting. One of the key characteristics of this shift, is that there is a growing understanding that the Kingdom is not run by a chain of command, no hierarchy, and that in fact there never was. As that reality is grasped, it is almost like seeing the ocean for the first time. No one owns it. No one controls it. No one person, and no one group, can claim to even to be able to monitor and record all that is happening amongst those who belong to Christ around the world.

We see people awakening to the idea that they do not in fact need to meet in special, religiously-oriented buildings, but can in fact meet anywhere, be it a coffee shop, park, beach, or home.

Trapped in a corridor - I was reminded of the blackbird. Like the bird, the Church has been trapped in a corridor. In the Church's case it's a corridor consisting of rules and regulations, power struggles, structures, organisations, and doctrines.

Just as the bird can see out, but not get out, so many in the Church have seen outside the box and have wanted to find the way out. But we can't get out on our own initiative, we need outside help. We need the Holy Spirit to steer us, we need the Shepherd to call us on, we need to be rescued and released.

Just in our day, it seems, people are catching a new vision of what it means to be a believer and follower of Christ. It doesn't mean sitting in a pew once a week, it does mean getting out into the world and living transformed lives in which friends, family, colleagues, and strangers alike can begin to see, not us, but Christ in us.

We are being lifted up by the gentle hands of Grace and deposited on the outside of this structure that has trapped us for so long. Now we are free to fly! Sometimes we need to be 'backed into a corner' like the blackbird before we can be lifted and removed from the place where we've been trapped.

Go on, stretch those wings, take a great leap into the air and fly. You have the freedom to do it, right now.

Begin to live - Let's be clear, it's quite possible for us to fly free - yet immediately start work on building a new structure! That's not what we are called to do. Yahshua told us, 'I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life'. He is the Way so we need to be guided by him and follow the course he has set. He is the Truth so we are to believe all that he says about himself and about the Father and about our place and role in this world. And he is the Life so we are to live his life here in the world, not our own life.

Living our own lives is what got us into this mess in the first place. But now we can fly free and truly be his people in this place.

22 October 2008

Clergy and laity

The concept of clergy and laity is entirely unknown to the writers of the New testament. It's just not there. In his Prayeramedic Blog, Dan O'Day asks a series of questions about this and I'll attempt some answers here. Police and plumberThis is not meant to be a point-by-point response, instead it will focus on two underlying issues that inform our thinking.

Dan's questions are not his alone, there are many others looking for answers to the same or related questions. The answers I give here are my own and are based on my particular spiritual journey.

Priesthood - Dan writes,
But didn't they have priests in the Old Testament, and doesn't that carry into the New Testament with pastors? Not that we need priests, but pastors simply serve as "ordained" leaders.

Indeed there were priests under the old covenant, but almost everything changed when Yahshua returned to his Father in Heaven. As his body here on Earth, Jew and gentile, man and woman, slave and free, we have all accepted Yahshua as Lord and King. We are a royal priesthood, HalleluYah! We are all, therefore, priests. And priests serving under a High Priest of the order of Melchizedek (see Hebrews 7). In other words everything has changed, the old arrangements no longer apply. We are priests in Christ's line, not priests in Aaron's line.

What does this mean? If I am a priest and you are a priest, which of us has priestly authority over the other? There is of course the Great High Priest who is Christ, and he has authority over both of us. But we are obedient to him alone, not to one another.

And again, what is a priest? A priest is one who offers a sacrifice on behalf of others. But there is only one sacrifice, Christ the Lamb, who offered up himself. Everything is brought together in him, he is Sacrifice, High Priest, King of Kings, Head - but also Emmanuel, 'Elohim with us'. It's no coincidence that there are no priests and no Temple in Jerusalem today. We are the royal priesthood and the living temple.

There is simply no room in this new convenant household for a priesthood over the Lord's people. We are the priesthood!

Authority - If we can conclude that government and shepherding by elders and pastors cannot come from a priestly source, where else then can it come from?

Notice that I avoided the word 'authority' in that last sentence. I wrote 'government and shepherding' instead. Why?

Before discussing that I think we need to look at that word 'authority' in a bit more detail. There are two kinds of authority, two distinct meanings that we hold in mind when we use that English word. This has caused many people to become confused because the distinction is not often made clear. Let's think about two people - a policeman and a plumber.

Let's take the policeman first. What do we mean when we talk about the authority of a police officer? We mean that if he tells us to get out of our car, we'd better get out of the car. If we're wise we'll do it in good time and without arguing. A policeman has been given authority from above. It arrives via his sergeant, and on up through an inspector, a superintendent, and eventually right up to the Chief Constable at Police Authority level. (This is the British system, others will be similar if different in detail.) Ultimately that authority goes to the Home Secretary, and on to Parliament, and then to the Queen.

So when that policeman stops you, he draws upon all that hierarchy for his authority. The law is on his side.

Now lets look at the plumber. He has no authority in the sense that the policeman does, yet he is rich in another kind of authority. Suppose a pipe bursts in your kitchen and starts to flood the floor. You need a plumber and you need one quickly. This is the authority of knowing what to do, the plumber's power is not delegated, but he has the skills to help you when you're in a fix. If a policeman tells you to leave the car you do it because of the law. If a plumber tells you to leave the kitchen you do it because he knows something you don't!

Sometimes we say a person is a great authority on butterflies. We don't mean they have been invested with the right to order us around, we mean they are an expert and we would naturally call on them if we wanted to know more about a butterfly we spotted in the garden.

Paul makes it clear that he has in mind that second sort of authority for the believers. There was no delegated, hierarchical leadership in the early church. There were no priests, no paid clergy, it simply did not work like that!

Elders and pastors - When we read about 'elders' the Koine Greek word is 'Presbuteros' which really means an older, wiser, more mature person. This would be a person with the 'plumber' kind of authority, not in any way like a policeman and with no hierarchy to answer to. When the church was struggling with some issue (and there will always be issues!) they would naturally pay particular attention to these people. This is the 'double respect' that we read about, it does not refer to payment but to the regard such a person would be held in.

It's not hard to find these people in the church today. Look around and you can identify them in any group of believers that have been together for a year or two. They are often humble, quiet, gentle people. They don't parade their wisdom, but everyone respects them and listens when they express a view on something.

Similarly with a pastor (a shepherd). Jesus made a point of explaining the difference between a good shepherd and a bad one. Sheep are not driven by a shepherd, they follow because they know him.

We shouldn't be looking for appointments in the church, we should be looking for functions. Let's begin to recognise the elders and pastors (and prophets and teachers and the rest). They're there in every congregation, in every cell group, in every house church, wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Yahshua. Look and you will see them.

Submit and obeyHebrews 13:17 is very interesting. I've looked hard and long at the Greek words translated 'obey' and 'submit'. They need not be as strong as they appear from those English words. 'Obey', for example has something of the meaning of 'defer to' or 'allow to persuade'; and 'submit' carries the sense of 'yield', or 'allow room'. It's also worth mentioning that the Greek contains no word for 'authority' in this verse, it's simply been inserted in translation.

The idea of leading or leaders is rare in the Bible except in connection with the state or the army or the priests (look up 'leader' and 'lead' in a concordance and look at the contexts). The word translated 'leaders' here is one of those rare occasions. Personally I'm not clear how to understand this verse, I'd be glad to hear from any Koine Greek scholars out there who would care to explain the range of possible interpretations.

My best guess is that the verse either means, 'Obey your leaders and submit to them because they watch over your souls as those who will be held accountable', or alternatively it might be translated, 'Be open to persuasion and give way to those that lead because they watch over your souls as those who will be held accountable.'

The reason I wrestle with this verse is that in its usual translation it doesn't seem a good fit with the rest of the letters to the churches, not does it sit well beside Christ's teaching. He said, for example, 'You are not to be called Rabbi (Teacher) because ... you are all brothers' (Matthew 23:8).

This doesn't cover everything that you raised in your post, Dan, but I hope it helps with some of the points. At any rate, this is more than enough for one blog post! Maybe I can come back another time to the other verses you listed, Dan. My prayer is that the church will understand these things in the way Yahshua intended. How desperately we need to see things his way, not ours.

And in the end, it's not just a matter of correctly interpreting Greek texts (important though that undoubtedly is). The work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is even more fundamental, only he can open the truth so that we see, only he can shine the light into the dark places, only he can lead us into all truth.

28 September 2008

Golden threads

Connections between believers are like braided bands (actions, conversations, thoughts etc). Most of the threads are made of ordinary brown or grey cord, but woven in among them is a golden thread which is the Lord's presence. KingfisherWe need to ignore all the worldly threads and search out the golden one!

As we grow, do more and more threads of gold replace those worldly cords? They should! The bands hold us together and the golden thread, weaving this way and that, touches each of the worldly threads, again and again.

I think this idea came out of one of our meetings, though I can't be sure. Whatever its origin, I jotted it down as something to develop as a blog post. So here goes.

The idea is that as we live in relationship with one another, much of the traffic between us is the stuff of normal life. We talk about family issues, our children, our jobs, places we have visited, things we have done. We talk about the weather, politics, what we have grown in the garden, recipes we have tried, the car, the dog, TV, a new song at church. This is normal. It's the conversation of the world.

But in amongst it there are threads we did not put there. Threads that have come from heaven.

It's not just a matter of words, the same is true of what we do or fail to do. We express ourselves to one another by our actions as much or more than by what we say. Whether in word or in deed, such golden threads were visible most clearly in the life of Yahshua as he interacted with his followers and with the religious and government authorities of his day.

Fishermen - Let's look at a few examples. The first one is very simple, Yahshua was walking beside Galilee and saw two men casting a fishing net. He must have seen this often before, yet on this occasion he said, 'Come with me - I'll make you fishers of men'. And they just dropped their nets and followed him (Matthew 4:18-20). In amongst the everyday things of walking along the shoreline, casting nets, and friendly conversation comes this golden thread moment. There is a spark of otherness here, a flash of spiritual life. The Master speaks the words the Father gives him, and the hearers respond as he knew they would. Words like this do not come from human intellect, they come straight from the mind of Yahweh.

These moments are like the blue flash of a darting Kingfisher seen out of the corner of your eye - gone again before you can pay proper attention to it. Although you didn't see it clearly, you know that something significant happened and you hold your breath in wonder.

Loving enemies? - Here's another example, from Matthew 5:43-48. 'But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.'

Once again we sense a golden, heavenly thread. There's an other-worldliness about the idea of loving our enemies. How could that arise in ordinary, worldly conversation? It's the wisdom of another place, sheer foolishness to humans. Yet if we live this way it reveals us to be the children of the Most High!

New testament letters - The four gospels are full of such threads, and Paul and the other writers explain the principles in their letters. See for example Ephesians 3:7-13 where we learn that 'the gift of the Almighty's grace' is involved. Paul says he explains 'unsearchable riches' - how can anyone share what is unsearchable? Only when a higher power acts where we cannot. How otherwise could anyone make a mystery plain? How can Paul's sufferings be for the Ephesian's glory? Do you see strands of heavenly gold here? They are inexplicably woven into the lives both of Paul and his Ephesian readers.

So what of our lives today? - Yes, these golden moments still happen for those who have faith in Yahshua. The Kingdom of Heaven touches believers in just the same way it did in New Testament times. The illogical logic of eternity, the foolish wisdom of the Most High, these invade our hearts and minds and change us forever.

It's merely a matter of moving our attention away from the mud beneath our feet, the earthy worldliness of the river bank, and looking up to see the living water flowing in the river, the Temple which is its source, and the Glory of the Almighty that surrounds us. He is with us (Emmanuel) and he fills us, there are golden strands running everywhere in our lives. And we recognise them every time we catch the flash of one of those golden moments.

Sometimes it's a sudden insight, sometimes it's a word spoken in a meeting, sometimes it's a certainty or an assurance that wells up in the most difficult circumstances. But the golden threads are always there.

Just read Paul's words as he writes to the church in Philippi 2000 years ago (Philippians 2:13-16). They're just as true for us today as they were for the Philippian believers.

The Almighty is at work in you to bring about his good purpose in your lives. Do everything without grumbling or arguing so you may be blameless and pure and become Yahweh's own offspring without fault in a twisted, ruined age. You shine like the stars in the heavens as you offer to others the word of life.

12 September 2008

Too many social networks!

There are too many social networking sites out there, each one different, many with interesting content.

Each one requires me to enter my profile details again, has a different menu structure, unique facilities, and specialist functions. We need something better.

Let me explain. For a while now I've been a member of Facebook (which I like and use regularly) and MySpace (which I don't like and rarely visit now). I'm also a member of various mailing lists and several specialist social networking sites, mostly to do with church.

For each one of these systems I have to enter my profile details all over again, but in a slightly different way. I have to learn a new and different way of working, a new set of menus and functions.

I was prompted to post this blog item when a friend emailed me details of a community building tool (Oikos) and asked me what I think about it.

There's a real problem here - it will be resolved eventually for sure, but meanwhile it will make life harder and harder for us all. The problem is that there are so many of these systems and the number is increasing dramatically all the time. There are even sites that offer 'roll your own' facilities (like Ning, and Oikos). I need more systems like I need a hole in the head!

What do we really need? - We need one system that lets us put in our user profile once, and then party with as many subgroups as we choose. In my case that might be a general organic church group, a local area christian group involving believers from every background and opinion, an astronomy group, a techie web software group, a history group, a group for my workmates, a photography group, and perhaps half a dozen others.

Facebook can do that already. And in a different way, so can Ning. We'll come back to Facebook and Ning later.

I predict that in the short term groups will proliferate, and they'll proliferate until people become heartily fed up with accessing so many. From then on a few will grow larger and larger at the expense of the smaller ones. The few are already growing in size, but we're still in the proliferation stage with new social networking sites coming on line daily - perhaps thousands of them daily, certainly hundreds.

One approach might be an agreed system for syndicating profiles around different systems. That would certainly help, but the navigation and feel of the systems would still be different and we'd have to learn our way around each one. There is at least one standard out there already and some systems are supporting it.

So - back to Facebook and Ning. Both systems offer a solution but they do it in very different ways.

The Facebook model - here we see an overall system that lets you join, select friends, and also select groups.

In practice most users will have a circle of friends composed of work colleagues, family, college friends, large or small geographical groups (my town, my state, my street - whatever), and people who share a common interest.

Many users will join groups on specific interests (I'm a member of several local groups, church groups, astronomy groups and so forth). These will include some Facebook friends but also many Facebook 'strangers'. The shared interest will normally be enough to keep the group buzz going, the conversations and shared resources will always be of interest providing they remain on topic.

All the groups work in the same way, use the same navigation, and have the same sort of arrangement on the page. As a user I can navigate very easily from a group to a friend's page, to my messages, to a group on another topic, all pretty much seamlessly and without having to login to a different website or learn a new style of operation. Joining a new group is not a big deal.

This is good!

The Ning model - Here the emphasis is on the groups, not on the friends. Using Ning, you or I can roll our own social networking site and invite interested parties to join up. We can run our own 'Facebook'.

At first sight this merely makes the proliferation of online social networks even more severe, it's easier than ever to create a new one!

But Ning has a real advantage here, if you sign up to several Ning-based systems your personal profile is shared between them. What's more, they all work in the same way. They may look a little different (colour, graphics, and to some extent layout), but they all share structure, navigation, and features. Ning sites are like Lego models, they look different but they're made of the same kind of parts. If you know how Lego works you'll have no problem recognising a Lego construction, using it, or altering it.

This is good too!

Ning or Facebook? - Which is best? In the end they're pretty similar. Ning is Facebook groups. Facebook groups are Ning social networks. If Ning added a feature to let you choose and interact with specific people outside the social networks it would be just like Facebook. And if Facebook allowed you to access a group as a separate website it would be just like Ning.

The two systems emphasise slightly different aspects but could so easily grow to be much more alike. One underlying difference is that you don't need to be a Ning member to join a Ning-built social network. Anyone with internet access can join in. But not everyone is on Facebook, not everyone wants to join Facebook. So a Facebook group is inaccessible to a whole section of the internet community. From an individual's perspective this may not appear to be a problem, but for someone planning to build a social network it may be a serious issue.

Which of the two will win out? It's much too early to say. Both have grown very fast indeed and show no sign of stopping. Both make it easy to set up a social space for a specific purpose. There are plenty of other systems and organisations out there, Yahoo, Google, or Microsoft in particular could muscle in on the act very quickly if they chose to stake a claim.

What does the future hold? - Here's my best guess.
  • In the short term, more proliferation but with continuing market share going to Facebook and to a lesser degree Ning. Facebook has, I think, more mass-market appeal than Ning.
  • In three years time expect to see more and more of the small players fall by the wayside, while Facebook, Ning, and one or more of Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft clean up.
  • Long term, expect two or three dominant players to emerge. One will take 75% to 95% of the share, one or two others will fight over the rest.
  • Expect the unexpected. There might be a major corporate takeover or two. One of the smaller players might come out with something innovative and grow from less than 1% share to become the major force in this space.
  • A major open source contribution is likely. This has happened in other areas of computing with Linux, Apache, Open Office, MediaWiki, and the GIMP.

There will be a shakeout, that much is certain. It will make life easier for everyone but at the same time restrict our choices. We've seen the same process with operating systems, word processors, spreadsheets, web browsers and more. History repeats itself. The end result is always one major player and a small number of niche alternatives.

22 August 2008

How's church in the UK?

A friend in Florida just asked me this in an email; I thought I'd answer the question for everyone. In context, the question means, 'How is church life going on for you personally', not, 'How is the church doing in the UK as a whole'. So this post answers the first, personal question, not the second, general one.

The fact is, things are going well, very well.

Am I happy with the state of affairs? Yes I am, I have a sense of peace about it all, like the peace in the scene in this post. Can I see where it's all heading? No, not really. Does that mean I lack a vision for the way forward? No, not in the least!

Let's unwrap that a bit.

It all depends on your point of view.

Let's start with the premise that church growth depends on running the church efficiently day to day, planning for the future, building up numbers, bringing in the necessary funding, putting up buildings, and growing people in maturity through teaching and discipling. That is the standard institutional model that most of us work by. In that case church growth can be measured in the same way that success in business can be measured. Set some targets, aim at them, and then measure success as achievement against those targets.

But there is a problem with that approach. Nowhere in the Bible do we find anything that looks remotely like the 'standard business model'!

If we begin with the premise that church growth depends on Jesus living in his people and guiding them individually and together, we get a very different definition of success. Success must now be measured in terms of the quality of relationship we have with Jesus and with one another. If we are rightly built into the body we'll see that Jesus does indeed build his church. Paul understood this when he wrote Romans 12:1-13. We are to work together in a new way, a totally unexpected way, and it's assuredly not the way of the world or of business.

Paul writes several times and at some length about life in the body and how we should expect to be built as a natural outworking of love. This 'building through loving' requires Jesus' love towards us, our love towards him, and finally our love towards one another. It couldn't be simpler. Does Paul ever (even once) write in terms of setting targets or having goals for building the church? No he does not.

So, in the light of all that, how's church been going for me recently?

Well, I've met some new people in the last few weeks and it seems to me we're likely to be keeping in touch and meeting together as and when we have the opportunity. I suspect we're going to find ourselves built and encouraged in unexpected ways.

At the same time we have a friend who was ill, had no reason (medically) to expect to survive, yet has been told he seems, remarkably, to be in the all clear.

Then there's the difficulty explained in an earlier post. I haven't had a reply yet, so I'm continuing in prayer and will keep thinking about the various issues involved. What I can say is that through some of my new friends I'm now aware of a man who is seriously interested in contacting the young people involved, and has the faith, the personality, and the experience to engage their interest. And I also know other friends on the edge of town who might be keen to help with that.

All of this is encouraging and exciting, so I think the answer to the original question is, 'Oh yes, things are going along very nicely thank you. Jesus is in control, and I have no specific targets because I have no idea what he will do next. But it will be good!

My personal targets are to get to know Yahshua better day by day, and to grow increasingly in relationship with my brothers and sisters.


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