29 April 2013

Men, women and children

Prompted as I wrote a reply to a blog post, I felt I needed to write at greater length on some principles of leading and following. Men, women and children all have a place in leading us in following Jesus. But is it men, women or children who do the best job of leading?

The simplicity of a young child
Felicity Dale, writing recently about women as leaders, asks, 'What is God about to do?' (It takes both men and women, Simply Church).

As I began to write a reply to her post, I felt the Holy Spirit leading me along a track I'd not considered before.

I'd had hints of this from time to time over the years but I hadn't put it all together in my mind.

Here's my response to Felicity's post.

If we define kingdom as the realm in which the King is obeyed, then wherever men, women and children are following Jesus - that is the kingdom.

But let's remember the children in all this. Believing children have some wonderful advantages over us adult believers. Everybody agrees that men can lead, a growing number agree that women can lead too, but who has considered that children can lead? Sometimes they do so in the most natural and unselfconscious way. And sometimes, as men and women, we just need to swallow our pride and follow them!

What is Father about to do?

I have a strong hunch that he is beginning to show us that all should lead and all should follow. What I mean by that is that we don't need to recognise particular people as leaders and others as followers. Instead we will be recognising leaders in the moment. Who is leading right now? Who is leading by their words, by their actions, by their love, by their compassion, by their joy, by their wisdom, by their humility? If Christ is revealing himself through a particular person right now, follow that person!

I'd like to develop this a little more.

Leaders - What do we mean when we think of leaders and leadership? A leader is clearly a person who leads, someone who goes in front. Leadership extends the idea to suggest someone whose role is to lead, someone who is skilled at leading and is expected to lead often, even always.

But I'd like to ask the question, 'Which way is a person facing when they lead?' There are three possibilities.

Looking forwards - Someone who is looking forwards is looking away from the people who are following. Such a person is looking at Jesus and following him. If I follow such a person I will also be following Jesus. Jesus goes where he chooses to go, the person who is looking towards him follows where he goes. I follow the follower so I go where the follower goes - so I go where Jesus goes. This is good, this is safe, this is what someone who leads should always do.

Looking sideways - I think we often do this. Such people are not looking at Jesus but nor are they looking at those who follow them. They're going off at a tangent. Follow them at your peril!

Looking backwards - Is this what we sometimes mean when we talk about leaders and leadership? Is the focus on the listeners and followers, not on Jesus?

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not talking here about someone speaking to a group of people. You can do that with your eyes firmly focussed on the King. I'm talking about someone who is focussed on the listeners and followers, someone who cares more about being followed than about following Jesus.

Another name for people who do this is 'false shepherd' (or 'bad shepherd'). These people want to feed on the sheep rather than lead the sheep to good pasture. Jesus shows us what a good shepherd is like. He is the Good Shepherd. He told Peter, 'Do you love me? Feed my sheep'.

Perhaps most of us, most of the time, look in all three directions. We gaze partly at Jesus, we glance away to the side, and we look to see who's following us.

Men, women and children - Remember, we're talking about believers here. So now ask yourself, can a man play the part of any of these three kinds of human leader? Yes, he can.

Can a woman play any of these parts? Yes, she can.

Can a child play any of these three parts? Well, perhaps. But in my experience believing children tend to look forward towards Jesus. Young children, in particular, tend to be much too naive to look sideways or backwards. So what does that tell you about the right kind of person to follow?

Jesus wasn't kidding when he told us that unless we come like little children we won't even see the kingdom of heaven.

Questions:

  • Do you know people who lead looking forwards, sideways or backwards?
  • Would you trust a child to lead you?
  • Depending on your answer to the previous question, why? or why not?

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:

24 April 2013

Space, a new era

A new age is beginning in space commerce. After a little history this article considers where things may go next in timescales of ten, twenty and a hundred years. This is no longer purely science fiction, it is becoming technological fact. It's possible to foresee voyages to the stars a hundred years from now.

Apollo 4 on the pad
Yes, we really are at the beginning of a new era in spaceflight. Until recently almost all efforts in space were the preserve of governments or multinational bodies like the European Space Agency (ESA).

In a few areas private companies were able to play a role, but the funding was mostly government based.

The only real exception has been for communications satellites, and even these had to be flown on rockets designed and built for governments.

In this article we'll look at how the situation has been changing, especially over the last five years.

Early history - I was nine-years-old when Sputnik 1 was launched by the Soviet Union in October 1957. I remember hearing its bleeping tone on the radio and noticing how anxious Mum and Dad seemed that the Russians rather than the Americans had achieved this feat of engineering.

Of course, America wasn't far behind; though early European cooperation in rocketry failed.

In April 1961 Yuri Gagarin flew on Vostok 1 and before long orbital trips seemed almost routine. The Americans landed Apollo 11 on the Moon in July 1969. Today we can add many more nations, an international organisation (ESA), and even a private company (SpaceX) to the list.

Commercial satellites - Commercial space businesses began with government contracts to construct rockets and build satellites. But the first businesses to make a profit from space were broadcasting and telecommunications companies.

Since then direct broadcast TV, weather satellites, earth resources, mapping, messaging, delivery tracking and global positioning (GPS) have become mainstream commercial applications. And military satellites, although not commercial in nature, are widely deployed and used by many national governments.

The space launch industry - With so many commercial satellite operators, it was clear that there was a  market for a commercial space launch industry.

Until recently those launchers have been funded and specified by governments, but now SpaceX, a number of other companies and some cooperative ventures such as the United Launch Alliance (ULA) are looking to make a profit by selling launch services. This includes provision of the launch vehicles, payload integration, fuelling, pad infrastructure, and managing the launch itself.

Virgin Galactic - Virgin is close to providing sub-orbital short hops into space. They plan to cater for space tourism as well as offering research flights. For the first time scientists and engineers will be able to fly with their experiments regularly and return them reliably. This service may replace throw-away sounding rockets.

Other companies are working on sub-orbital flight too, but Virgin are very close. Their spacecraft (SpaceShipTwo) is about to begin powered test flights.

SpaceX - Elon Musk's company already offers two sizes of commercial launcher (Falcon 1e and Falcon 9) and is close to testing Falcon Heavy for even larger payloads. They are also using their Dragon cargo ship to fly regularly to the International Space Station (ISS), are working hard on a crewed version of Dragon.

DragonLab is a free-flying commercial venture to provide a weightless platform for science and technology. Any organisation can book space on DragonLab knowing that their payload can be recovered and flown again as often as required.

A further project (Grasshopper) is developing the technology to safely land and re-use Falcon 9 rocket stages. And in the more distant future SpaceX has ambitions to see a viable human colony established on Mars.

Bigelow - Bigelow Aerospace has two prototype inflatable space habitat modules in orbit, is planning to attach one to the ISS for testing by NASA, and plans to offer orbital accommodation for science as well as for tourism.

Mars OneMars One is a non-profit foundation based in the Netherlands. They hope to colonise Mars and pay for it by a combination of donations, sponsorship and TV contracts. The plan is to send four people to Mars in 2023 with four more arriving every two years after that. These are one way trips. Mars One is now open for applicants and is signing contracts for initial design studies.

Asteroid mining - At least two companies have been created recently with a view to the commercial exploitation of asteroidal materials. Asteroids are rich in rare and precious metals as well as volatiles in the form of ices.

Where is it all leading? - This really is a special time in spaceflight. We are progressing from state funded and controlled projects at relatively small scale and high cost, towards commercial operations taking humankind and our machines further and doing so profitably.

The immediate future offers the prospect of short hops into space for anyone with £20 000 to £30 000 to spare, a reusable Falcon 9 first stage substantially reducing the cost to orbit, and commercial access to low Earth orbit (LEO) for both crewed and uncrewed spacecraft. This is likely to include small capsules like SpaceX's Dragon and much larger volumes such as the Bigelow inflatable modules. Much of this will happen in the next ten years.

In the longer term we can expect commercial operations to develop raw material supplies from Asteroids, as well as small colonies on Mars and perhaps the Moon too. For this we may be looking at a twenty year timescale.

But make no mistake, once this process has begun there will be no stopping it. We are probably heading for a Solar System wide civilisation within the next century. Children born today will find it quite normal to watch and read material created on a different planet or in orbit elsewhere around our local star.

And once the outer planets have been reached it will be only a matter of time before our descendants start to consider how best to reach other stars. Perhaps they will send out self-sufficient colonies based on and inside modified asteroids.

Questions:

  • If humans colonise space, how will that affect society, faith, and the future?
  • Are you going to sign up for Mars One's one way trip to Mars? (I'm not!)
  • How would you feel if your children or grandchildren were living on Mars?
  • If the cost comes down enough, would you fancy a sub-orbital hop into space?

See also:




23 April 2013

To Egypt and back

Leaders in the church, Part 7
< Herod and the astrologers | Index | John the Baptist >

Joseph takes his family to Egypt to escape from Herod, and later they return and head for Galilee. This shows us how important it is to lead from obedience. But what do we do when the information is incomplete? And what does this say about leaders and about followers?

A painting of the escape to Egypt
When I began my trawl through the New Testament for information on leadership, I had no idea that by the seventh article I'd still be in the second chapter of Matthew!

But that is right where we are, looking at Joseph and Mary's escape to Egypt and then their decision to settle in Nazareth in Galilee. (Matthew 2:13-23)

Once again, dreams are an important feature. I've occasionally been guided by dreams in the past, I wonder if you have too? This time, the angel in Joseph's dream instructs him to take his family to Egypt because Herod is going to hunt down the baby to kill him. As before, Joseph was obedient, he got up and set off in the night for Egypt.

Later, when Herod was dead, he was told to return to Israel (again by an angel in a dream) and was finally guided (in another dream) to settle in Galilee in the town of Nazareth.

Leadership - What can we learn from this about leadership? Right away we  can see the importance of acting on what we hear from the Father.

Leading is not about following our own plans and visions, it's about following the Father's plans and visions. In other words, leading is about obedience. It's not about my wisdom, it's about Father's wisdom expressed in whatever way he chooses.

In Joseph's case the Almighty's will was expressed in dreams, it may sometimes be the same for us. However, the Holy Spirit may choose to speak in many different ways. It's up to us to be alert and notice his communication - whatever form it takes.

Acting on incomplete information - Something else we can glean from this story is that leading through obedience is not always easy.

'Escape to Egypt and stay there until I tell you' meant that Joseph's obedience would be open-ended. Not only would they go to Egypt, they would stay there for an unknown period of time. Presumably he would have found work as a carpenter and there was a large ex-pat Jewish community in cities like Alexandria. Should they settle, build a house and set up a business? Or would it be better to do contract jobs and find temporary lodgings?

Similarly, 'Go to Israel' is incomplete information; apparently Joseph was not told what part of Israel to choose or how long to remain there. Guidance and obedience don't always result in the clarity we might like.

There's also the important matter of using our own brains, wisdom and experience. When guidance lacks detail we may need to depend on our own resources to fill the gaps. Joseph decided for himself that it was unwise to go to Judaea. In a further dream he was warned again and decided to settle in Galilee in the small town of Nazareth. He worked the rest of his life and died in Nazareth without seeing what Jesus would eventually do. We rarely see the end from the beginning.

For us and for others - Leading implies followers. We have responsibilities to others and to our heavenly Father. Here is Joseph having to make decisions that also affect Mary and the infant Jesus. Here's the One who has come as Emmanuel ('Elohim with us') placing his safety in the hands of a carpenter! Even those with great authority (even Jesus) must learn to put their trust in the hands of other leaders.

This is true in the church, isn't it? Christ himself is the head of the church yet he has entrusted his body to the leading of ordinary men and women, not because he needs to but because he chooses to. And it's the same for us.

One of the primary ways leaders come off the rails is when they begin to think people should follow them. Demanding to be followed will never be effective because true authority is always given freely, not demanded. If people don't want to follow you no amount of cajoling or threatening or persuading will change their minds. But if you are worthy of respect and trust they will follow you without hesitation, even without conscious thought.

Joseph was followed into Egypt, back to Israel and on to Galilee because Mary respected and trusted and loved him. And the infant Jesus, the fullness of the Most High in tiny, helpless, human form was also entrusted to his care and to that of Mary. Have you ever thought how truly awesome that is?

And have you ever thought how awesome it is that the Father trusts us to lead one another? Jesus lives in every believer, he has planted his Holy Spirit and nature in us individually. If you lead you are leading people who are filled with the presence of the King of Kings! So be very careful and ever so humble in all you say and do and think.

This is why we are told that few should teach (James 3:1) and none should be called Teacher (Matthew 23:8). And it's why Paul wanted the churches to recognise elders who would be true and faithful (Titus 1:5-9). Much depended on it. Much depends on it still.

Leading by doing - Notice how an angel was sent repeatedly to show Joseph what to do next. He was given dreams that showed him the need to journey and provided clear destinations. There's a clue for us here if we are willing to see it.

If anyone aspires to lead the body of Christ they must lead by their actions, not merely by talking. If the lesson is to love one another then leading will involve practical and sacrificial loving. Isn't that how Jesus did it? If the lesson is sharing the good news in every day life then leading will involve inventive ways of sharing it daily.

Unlike Father, we can't insert a dream into a sleeping person's mind. However, we can insert a dream by demonstrating it in our own lives, by acting it out. In the church we are, I think, surrounded by many, many sleeping people (certainly in Western society). So go and show them the dream, reveal it to them by your actions. You are a leader, in many ways we all are. So get to it!

Questions:

  • What would have happened if Joseph had ignored the dreams in his leading?
  • Can you think of examples of local leaders in your own life who show the way?
  • How might you lead, or lead more effectively?
  • Had you considered that when you lead you are leading people who contain Christ?

See also:


< Herod and the astrologers | Index | John the Baptist >

21 April 2013

A walk along the river

A walk along the riverbank and a sight of the old castle mound spoke to me about church. We consider the story of the castle and what it tells us, how church can go bad, and some pointers as to how it might be redeemed. There's a useful list of links at the end.

Castle Hills in Eaton Socon
Yesterday morning Mo and I went for a walk. I headed across to his place, we had a coffee and chatted.

Then, as it was a beautiful morning, we walked down to the river, crossed over, headed upstream to the Rivermill pub, then back to Mo's for a second coffee and a bit more conversation.

On the way we had a great view of Castle Hills and it struck me that this place has much to say about the church. I've seen this view of the old castle site in Eaton Socon many, many times, but never before have I sensed that it was a powerful illustration of some spiritual principles.

The history of the castle - First I need to give you a bit of background information. The land around the river is very flat. It's flood meadow, there's a deep layer of river gravel covered by rich soil, and the river itself would have moved slowly back and forth across this flat area over the ten thousand years since the last ice-age ended. The higher ground you see in the photo is man made.

There is a story, perhaps true, that the castle mound was constructed and a wooden castle built on it
during the Norman period. But the nobleman who built it didn't ask for the king's permission, and he was later commanded to pull it down again.

Certainly there is no castle there now.

How does this apply to the church? - Just consider that the church is a holy temple built of living stones. We, the people of Christ the King, are those living stones.

In 1 Corinthians 3:8-17 Paul writes that the foundation of the church is Jesus Christ, but whether the building survives or falls also depends on whether it's built of the right materials and how skillful the builders are.

The castle was built on its mound by a Norman nobleman. But it was built of wood, not stone, and it was built unwisely because it was built without the king's permission.

How about the local church where you live? Has it been built with or without the permission of King Jesus? Was it built at his command? And is it made of materials that will last? We need to ask ourselves what other foundations and materials might sometimes be erroneously used.

It might seem strange to suggest that we need permission from Jesus to begin church. But remember, he said, 'I will build my church'. In everything we need to listen to the Holy Spirit and do what he calls us to do. If I branch out on my own I may come unstuck.

As a general rule it's OK to just meet together because we are his people, that is always a good thing. But what is not necessarily right is to create structures to manage and control the direction, the finances, the policies, and the work of the local body. For those we most certainly do need to hear and obey the King. That's what I mean by 'build' in the context of church life.

Clearly, if a local expression of church is built without the King's permission it is not built on the foundation of Christ. It might instead be built on greed, for example, created to turn in a tidy sum in offerings with the intention of creaming some off into someone's pockets. We have seen this with some TV ministries over the years. Or it might be built on business management principles leaving no room for the Holy Spirit to guide the work. Or perhaps it might be built on faulty doctrine or wrong practice.

And what about the materials used, the living stones? Even if constructed on the true foundation of Christ, a church might still be at risk if the people lack wisdom, or the ability to hear the Spirit well, if there is wrong teaching or unforgiveness or a clinging to materialism.

But perhaps the most dangerous situation of all is one where the church is led in a way that doesn't encourage active participation, where people expect to be 'fed' instead of coming to feed one another.

The way forward - There are many potential pitfalls, but beginning in simple ways and  making it difficult for people to be mere pew sitters will always help. Transforming a situation steeped in traditional ways is much more difficult, but by no means impossible.

Material designed to help church grow in healthy, Christ-centred, missional and loving ways is produced abundantly by people and organisations like Neil Cole (Church Multiplication Associates), Alan Hirsch (Forge Mission Training Network), Tony and Felicity Dale (House2House), Steve Addison (Movements that Change the World) and, here in the UK, Peter Farmer (NewForms Resources).

There are also many, many other sources of inspiration, information, ideas, and good teaching - far too many to list here. Consider Paul Young, Lyfe, Austin-Sparks.net, Nomad Podcast, Olive Tree, Be the Light.

Questions:

  • What is good about your local church environment?
  • What is less good?
  • Are there ways you could help to improve things?
  • Are you reaching others, encouraging the church family, loving those around you?

See also:

17 April 2013

Five ideas about stories

Josh Reeves shares some great ideas about 'knowing the story'. The idea is to make us more effective in what we already do, not add extra stuff to our schedule. In a fuller article at Soma, Josh provides more of these useful lists of ideas in other important activities.

Josh Reeves writing on VergeJosh Reeves, writing at The Verge Network, considers 'Five Practical Ideas to Know the Story'.

He explains, 'Much of what we do is not meant to add things to the schedule, but bring intentionality to the things we are already doing'. And then he provides a list of practical ideas.

  1. Practice telling the story to your kids and spouse
  2. Listen to others tell the story
  3. Have a night where each person shares their story in 10 minutes.
  4. Identify and write down the 4 major stories you see people believing.
  5. Host a get to know your neighbors party - with artifacts.
He suggests we consider these short extracts from the Bible... Genesis 1:1-2, John 1:1, Psalm 1 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Josh also provides links to some very helpful resources. Don't miss out on these, read his article and follow the links.

In his Verge post, Josh is summarising part of a fuller article on Soma's website. If you want to know more I recommend you take the time to read that. In it he offers five practical ideas for a whole range of other activities - to help us listen, celebrate and suffer, bless, eat, rest and work.

Maybe you could consider working through Josh's lists with a group of friends?


Questions:

  • Jesus often used parables - why?
  • Why do you think telling stories is so powerful?

See also:

Copyright

Creative Commons Licence

© 2002-2017, Chris J Jefferies

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. A link to the relevant article on this site is sufficient attribution. If you print the material please include the URL. Thanks! Click through photos for larger versions. Images from Wikimedia Commons will then display the original copyright information.
Real Time Web Analytics