Monday, 11 November 2013

Learning to Learn

When i was 13, i went on a cycling holiday (one of many as a kid) for 4 days in North Wales. Big deal you say. I had a great time, and have some abiding memories of that trip: triple bunk beds in Maeshafn Youth
This is an old photo but it's not me!
Hostel! But if i was to say i went with my mate Jem without an adult you might think differently. This was early 1980s (it wasn't pre-war), but I'm sure many now could not believe what my parents let me do then. I wouldn't let me do what i did then! What were my parents thinking?

Well i know what they were thinking: Gav knows how to handle himself, he's been on dozens of cycling trips, he knows his bike, he can map read, cook and he's sensible (at least that's what they thought! I managed to keep that illusion going for quite a while!) and he has a good friend with him, and he's not far away (we lived on the Wirral, 20 miles north of Chester). In other words i had spent countless hours with my mum and dad, not just watching but helping them do all the things needed to go on a cycling holiday, from cleaning to fixing a bike, to solving a map reading problem, and planning shopping and cooking over a 2 week period. In short, they apprenticed me in the art of a cycling youth hostelling holiday, and they knew i was ready to fly solo. The next year we went to the Lake District and the year after that to Inverness and the Highlands with another lad.

What we're trying to do for our faith is a similar thing. We're trying to shift to a more apprentice based model of learning for both adults and children. This doesn't mean you do away with conventional teaching, learning information, or class-room style learning but that you also create environments and culture whereby people can practice and apply what they're learning. The most challenging area for this is that of children and young people. Our culture (and many parents) expects to see children in a Sunday school setting, and that's not wrong, but why do we only see that as an appropriate way of leaning? Can there be alternatives? Can we learn from Jesus' rabbinical background which a group of people physically followed him around, learning by listening, watching and practicing with him, and ultimately then flying solo?

This month we've seen some amazing scenes. At our monthly celebration on the 3rd Nov., the theme was the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). So when the children and young people went out to their groups, they were trained in how to pray for people. While that was going on I was preaching with the adults, and then began our normal period of 'prayer ministry': inviting people to the front to receive prayer for various things. So our team of volunteers brought the children and young people back, and they formed the prayer ministry team, praying for the adults in 2s and 3s with an adult helping them. Seeing adults humble themselves and receive ministry from children, seeing the children step up, lay hands on and pray for the adults, was truly memorable and moving.
This wasn't our actual scene but it was like it
It was the gloriously messy but humbling and godly situation you often find when the kingdom of God is revealed. More mess please!

Yesterday, the 10th, in our clusters, i know of at least 2 gatherings where the children laid hands on and prayed for anyone who wanted to prayer! Thing is, those gatherings were in a coffee shop and the bar area of a sports clubhouse. I'm proud of MBC, I'm proud of the children who are brave to try, the adults who'll humble themselves to receive from children, and I'm proud of the leaders who enable that to happen. Well done everyone. I'm glad my kids are growing up and experiencing church in this way. I'm glad they're being equipped from a young age to minister in the power of the Spirit, both in church settings but also in public spaces too. I think we're beginning to grasp what apprenticing looks like. It's been a tough journey, and many can't understand it, but we're getting there. Let's keep on keeping on, learning Jesus' way, and bearing the fruit he wants us to.
Keep laughing, keep loving keep learning.

What's in a Name? Understanding Mission.

Thought i posted this 2 weeks ago but it stayed in draft - doh!

Whilst in Zimbabwe in the summer, my fmaily and I had a lot of fun joking about the myriad of wonderful names in Zimbabwean culture. IN fact we collected all teh names which were English language words (there were plenty in Shona too). These are some: Perfect, Pride, Precious, Princess, Blessed, Blessing, Nomore, Norest, Evernice. Some are beautiful, some have tough stories behind them. If we adopted the tradition of naming in England we'd have people called things like "Nosleep", Biglungs, Bruiser, Porker etc. If you have a nice name it brings  a new dimension to introducing yourself; on my first visit to fill up our truck with diesel (in Zim you stay in your car and an attendant does it for you) a young pretty lady strolled up to my window and said "Hi I'm Princess, how can i help you today"? I did not know what to do with myself. I thought she was coming on to me! In my dreams! But imagine introducing yourself as "Blessed" or beautiful, Strong or Handsome? If you have a good name, it's empowering. If not, it's disabling. In cultures like this, when people come to faith in Jesus, they are often given a new name - one which instead of cursing them speaks a blessing into their life.

Names are important. As a faith community we are trying to be 'missional' and describe ourselves as a 'missional church'. What do we mean by that? What does being missional mean? And is it important?

Quite simply it means to go on God's behalf and share his love with others. We are called to join God in the Missio Dei (The mission of God) which is to bring his love to all people. He didn't wait around in heaven for u to come to him, he left heaven and was born a baby so he could communicate with us. So if we become missional we begin a journey of moving towards those who don't know him yet.

It's important to understand these words as they define some key things for us as followers of Jesus. We can be evangelistic, i.e. sharing the love of God, without being truly missional because we haven't GONE anywhere to do that. Its not wrong. When people come to us, because of their hunger and searching, of course we share God's love with them too. Brilliant. But if we want to fully reflect the character of God, we need to also GO to those who will never, off their own back, have the courage to come to us. Being missional and 'going' id commonly associated with going to the other side of the world, but it can just as easily mean crossing to the other side of the room at a party, or walking across the road to a neighbour's house. How far you go is not important - who takes the initiative and the intention behind it is the key.

It's important on so many levels. If we only wait for people to come to us, we tend to only attract people like us, and so large chunks of society are untouched by the gospel, simply because 'they're different' to us. And in the process of going we are changed more deeply into God's character because going means sacrificing, risking, having more faith and more courage to venture into unknown territory. As we go, we listen more to the culture around us, hearing its hurts and cries of pain; we see more, seeing its 'needs' and 'gaps'. And by going we can demonstrate more of the love that we're trying to communicate. It is, after all, all about that; it's all about love; learning to love better.