Cafe Update April

After much prayer, idea sharing and conversation, we have come up with a way to meet our current hospitality needs and leave room for future dreams and plans.

The vision of the café is ‘to provide a welcoming place of hospitality to help foster relationships, welcome new people and encourage redemptive communities and people becoming lifelong followers of Jesus.’

We want to:

–          Create an environment that is warm, relaxed, comfortable, non-threatening and personable

–          Prioritise the café being open on Sundays with two or three food choices and barista coffee available

–          Explore the café being open from Tuesday to Friday 10am – 2pm with coffee and a small selection of bought in food (e.g. slices)

–          Providing hospitality around key church events, including funerals

–          Explore fundraising options for Sundays

–          Explore commercial renting of the kitchen on weekdays

To do this we need to apply for resource consent, that is built around providing a full café menu and operating from 10am – 10pm on Sundays and from 9.30am – 5pm on weekdays. Once this is granted, specific opening hours and menus will be determined. We are also going to employ a start-up manager to provide a food control plan, Sunday volunteer rosters and operational systems.

The consent process will take a couple of months (or more), so in the interim we want to foster a culture of hospitality within the church by continuing a Sunday hospitality roster with free tea and coffee. A plan for mid-week ministry support is already in place.

We trust you will continue to enjoy hospitality in the café space.

Prayer 101

On Sunday morning we looked at ‘Watching and Praying’. Here are some points to get you started…

1.       Pick a time (maybe early morning)

2.       Pick a space (quiet, few distractions, something to focus on)

3.       Set yourself a time that is not rushed (I’ve got x minutes with God free)

4.       Be aware of God’s gaze on you (love and joy of this offering of time)

5.       Read your passage (maybe Mark 14 v 43 onwards)

6.       What are you asking God for? (Jesus passion be mine)

7.       Where does what you read speak to, touch or surprise you? (Stay with that… what is God showing you?)

8.       How can I pray from this time? Who can I pray for?

9.       Note down key thoughts, feelings, insights

10.     Tomorrow re-read your notes at the beginning of your time

Some questions and answers

I was asked this week to answer some questions for leaders in the Baptist churches of Virginna (USA) as they prepare for their annual conference. Below are their questions and my responses.

 

1. Your book, “A Churchless Faith,” was a pioneer in suggesting that people in western cultures were beginning to imagine life and spirituality apart from congregational involvement.  That is an alarming word to those invested in congregations today.  How would you counsel church leaders today to respond to church leavers? 

When people talk about being unsatisfied, disgruntled, looking at leaving a dance can easily begin. In the dance the disgruntled person steps back from the pastor and leaders. The pastor and leaders, in turn, sense the person’s unhappiness or pulling back and step back too. This so easily begins a series of backwards steps from both pastor and disgruntled person that so easily opens a cavern of mis-understandings, lack of communication and potential blaming of each other.

Counter Intuitively the best thing a pastor can do is step towards the seemingly disgruntled, even angry person. Step toward them to engage them in conversation.

Now those early conversations will probably involve more listening and soaking up of emotion by the pastor or church leader than anything else. Many things may be said that are untrue but the feelings behind them need to be heard even if the source of the feeling is deeper than the person can identify or name at this point.  But this listening and absorbing of pain and misunderstanding is the basis of future trust and conversations that help heal and rebuild faith.

If you want an unfair analogy – it sometimes feels like parenting teenagers. You just have to suck up the awkward feelings and comments as they individuate. But they won’t be angry, disgruntled and searching forever. Well, at least not as long as they are helped in productive ways early on.

Finally leavers are your friends. They will tell you things about the church that the satisfied church members never will. They will point out the sort of things that stop outsiders engaging with your church but never tell you. What these disgruntled potential leavers tell you won’t come easily and it will be painful to hear. But reflect on it. Sift what is said. What do you and the church need to hear? What is more about the person’s own journey and needs to stay with them? What can you consider as you plan and build for the future of the church?

But whatever you do don’t ask the disgruntled potential leaver to lead change in the church. That won’t help them or the church. At this point they need to work on the deep issues of their own faith. Trying to solve ‘church’ issues won’t reduce their angst or lay the foundations for a deeper engagement with God, scripture, prayer, discipleship or mission. And asking them to lead change in the church will often lead to them creating new things for disgruntled people, like themselves, they others are not actually drawn to and that they themselves wouldn’t be part of once the internal deeper faith work is underway for them personally.

 

2. You identify several types of leavers:  – “disillusioned followers, reflective exiles, transitional explorers, and integrated wayfinders.”  What trends are you seeing in New Zealand, and do you have any observations of church leavers in North America? 

The trends in NZ are pretty alarming. The rate of leaving is increasing but not only among the middle aged. An increasing trend is for the active retired to leave as they holiday more, go mountain biking, sailing or spend time at the batch (holiday home). The other demographic increase is among the 25 to 35 year olds. A group that would previously have been settling into church as leaders and creative innovators now has many leaving with a sense of dissatisfaction. And then there are those coming each week who are leaving internally. They are present but inside the lights are out. Other things keep them coming – their children, friendships, playing in the band etc. Yet they are not engaging in the way they would have previously.

I did my initial study on church leavers 20 years ago and since then the trends have only increased.

But there is another side. People are coming to faith as well. Young people, immigrants and more vibrant church models are drawing people in. However studies of immigrant families show that the second and third generation of immigrants don’t stay in church any more than the general population. And many of our vibrant churches have both a big front door (attracting new people in) and a big back door (people leaving).

I am aware of the volume of writing coming from America abut church leavers and notice the increasing concern and volume of research and pastoral work in this area. 20 years ago when I was researching church leavers the dominant work was coming out of Europe. Today this is being significantly; I should say hugely, added to from an American context.

 

3. What can the North American church learn from the New Zealand experience of the church as it interacts with a culture that has increasingly seen the role of the church as an agent of transformation to be irrelevant? 

New Zealand is arguably the most secular country in the world. One of the Scandinavian countries may beat New Zealand for that dubious title but however you read the data we are among the most secular cultures in the world. In this sense we are decades ahead of many American denominations in our engagement with a highly secular people, a godless popular culture, and our engagement with church leavers. I know many will say I don’t understand America. I get the same reaction when I make comments like this in Australia. My response is that I’m not sure Australians and Americans see the degree of ignorance, hostility, cynicism and deep dismissiveness in the NZ culture towards the Christian faith.

On the flip side there are groups of Christians and churches that are creating more locally community focused forms of church that are showing new ways of engagement as followers of Jesus and with the people and places they live. Such groups, despite difficulties, are pointing to new forms of church. I find this very exciting, relationally far more demanding that institutionally focused forms of church and, dare I say it, closer to the New Testament descriptions.

 

4. What are some ways your church has interacted positively with church leavers?  What signs of hope do you see in these engagements?

I have moved churches eight years ago from one that was very involved in providing groups, personal mentoring and resources for people leaving or considering leaving churches to one that is focused on forming community approaches where people from the church live. This is providing ways that young and old, Christian and non-Christian and those struggling with church and those who have left years before can engage around working-bees, BBQ’s, meals as well as rhythms of prayer, bible study etc.

I am less focused on providing programmes for leavers now and more focused on relationship based discipleship.

 

5. Your books help us recover the idea of the value of embracing “the dark night of the soul” in spiritual journey.  Say a word about that, and talk about how have you seen value in churches engaging people who are in deep spiritual questioning?  What do the journeys of “leavers” look like “five years on?”

Firstly the dark night of the soul, as John of the Cross described it, is a great description of the lived experience of many people of faith as their sense of God and all God was to them seemingly disappears. Or at least is not accessible to them in the ways they had previously come to experience God. I think Protestantism, including we Baptists, have lost the deep insight of the voids of faith that are clearly explored in the writings of some of the great Catholic leaders of prayer like John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius, Benedict, the desert fathers etc.

These crisis of the soul are the invitation for pastors and mature Christians to care deeply. Many years ago I found reading the Starbridge series of novels by Susan Howatch (https://www.goodreads.com/series/75351-starbridge ) helped me to see these opportunities to come along side someone.  [Small side note these are novels with spiritual hero’s at the centre of them and it is only as you read the whole series that you realize there are in fact no spiritual hero’s only broken people dependent on a loving and deeply powerful God.

Five years on people’s trajectories away from God (and or church) or towards God (and church) are typically simply further down the path and direction they were headed five years earlier.  That is they keep moving down the same direction they were pointed to when they left the church. Without a wise Christian mentor or a solid commitment to a group of Christians who engage with faith questions and practices very very few people change their path of increasing disengagement with God and people of faith after leaving the church.

 

6. Can you say a brief word about how your background in the military and as a sociologist have informed your pastoral leadership?

Both the military and the mileu of academic sociologists are very secular. Bbing used to both the culture and academic underpinnings of secularization and secular mindsets may have been formative for me. What I have also found helpful is the military wisdom of ‘lingering with intent’. Which means to be their for people when people want to talk or need you, winning their respect because through skill and care and then building relationships.

 

7. Do you have any thoughts about the unique value of the Baptist voice in engaging a culture that increasingly ignores the church but is all-in for spiritual searching?

Baptists are inherently covenant people. People of deep conviction and commitment to God and each other. We believe in the body of Christ in the community of the church. We, at least historically, made deep commitments to this body of believers. If we can mine those deep covenant commitments to build Christ centred community together where we live and with those who live around us then I see hope. But if we become increasingly more and more an institutional model of church our fragility will also increase.

Baptists are also prophetic people who showed and lived an alternative community. Maybe there is much we can learn from our history that could help us shape our future. Maybe deep commitments to community that are lived out in relationships marked by promise-making, truth-telling, costly sharing, regular hospitality and life-together are the way ahead. Maybe some communities of Baptists will learn from the past and be living alternative communities of Christ in our own context. Then we’d be prophetic again!

Thinking about Place

Over the last 12 months I’ve been reading about the significance of place in scripture. It was a key theme of the Bible that I had largely over looked!

In the beginning, we read that God creates his people and gives them a place. They are displaced through sin but promised they will have their own place in the future. In fact much of the Old Testament is the journey of promise to place as pilgrims through Genesis, as slaves in Exodus and as exiles in the prophets.

John’s gospel begins with the Word of God choosing to dwell with humanity. Literally pitch his tent with people. Jesus lives in Nazareth and wanders in a region smaller than Canterbury. The first church begins with a community of faith described in Acts 2 and then spreads to locally placed communities across the known world. Revelation ends with the new heaven and the new earth. Or more literally the re-newed earth as God brings heaven to earth and God again dwells with his people here like in the Garden of Eden.

This very strong biblical narrative highlights the significance of place in mission and our lives.  Books that have helped revolutionist my perspective include:

Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today by Craig Bartholomew
The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting faith in a mobile culture by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.
Lovers of Place by Francis Kline
The Land is Mine by Norman Habel
The Land: Place as gift, Promise and Challenge in Biblical faith by Walter Brueggemann.

Thinking about Communities

Community is at the heart of the gospel, the context for discipleship in the New Testament and the centre of what it means to be a church. Without it church looses its soul.

A book I am finding helpful is Christinne Pohl’s book ‘Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain us. In this book Pohl focuses on 4 key practices of community life – Gratitude, Making and Keeping Promises, Living Truthfully and Hospitality.

Here is a good review of the book.

Mid-week service

We are exploring starting a mid-week service because we are aware Sunday’s are not the only time we could gather for worship. For some of our older people, people at home with young families, shift workers and others, a day time mid-week service may be a more suitable option.
The suggestion of a mid-week daytime service came out of the feedback from meetings at Halswell after we decided to bring our Sunday services together. It seems like a good time to explore whether there is a core of people interested in and willing to help make a mid-week service happen. If we were to have a mid-week service we would base it at the Halswell site. As we explore this possibility we would value your thoughts and potential contribution.

Here is a questionnaire that you could fill out and send to Ruth TownsendAlison Ford and Warren Read.

If you are interested we would really appreciate you taking the time to complete the attached questionnaire and return this to us.

How is the foyer upgrade going?

Those of you who took the chance to have a wander around, will have seen we are well underway with the foyer upgrade. Next week the painting will start and then we will be into finishing, fitting out the toilets and installing lights and plugs, benches and the information cabinetry.

Like most building projects there have been some surprises along the way, including;

·         Finding a myriad of wiring and a number of switch boards, so we have rationalized this as part of the project and created one main electrical switch board in the office block.

·         Future proofing the area with audio and digital cabling.

·         Needing to add fireproofing to the all the steel framework to meet new fire regulations and ensure safety.

·         Some hold ups with materials and suppliers.

Despite this we have had a brilliant team of builders and contractors who have done all they can to keep this job moving forward. Most of the team on the job are part of the church and they have created a great working team.

It looks like we will achieve all the aims we had for the project but one. We had hoped to have a separate room for the church library, but have had to compromise and will create a library space in the entrance area from the main car park. The advantage in this is that the library will have great visibility and its location will hopefully encourage greater reading of the library books.

Please don’t hold me to this, but we are working to having the area open on Sunday the 17th of May. There will probably be a few fittings still not in place at that point and we may be working off a temporary information counter but we will be operational.  So if possible, we will be able to officially open the area on Sunday the 24th of May.