Monday, May 30, 2016

Pondering - Millennials and the church

Ok, this blog follows hot on the heels of a clergy day, and also a young adults evening looking at what does church look like for young adults held in the diocese.

What follows wasn't what was discussed  but what  has  been sparked in my own thoughts following the event. It's on my blog simply to hopefully provoke some more discussion and what could and should be within the church.

So, what's with the title?

I dislike labels immensely - I really, really do as it put things into boxes and I don't like boxes, life doesn't fit into boxes - but I'm going to run with the the label anyway - because it's handy to do so According to people :

The term Millennials generally refers to the generation of people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Perhaps the most commonly used birth range for this group is 1982-2000. The Millennial Generation is also known as Generation Y, because it comes after Generation X — those people between the early 1960s and the 1980s. 

So, Let's suppose we can label a generation - what 5 features define a generation, or let me be personal - what 5 features define MY generation

According to Forbes (

1. Millennials expect technology to simply work–so you’d better make sure that it does.

2. Millennials are a social generation—and they socialize while consuming (and deciding to consume) your products and services.

3. They collaborate and cooperate–with each other and, when possible, with brands

4. They’re looking for adventure (and whatever comes their way).

5. They’re passionate about values–including the values of companies they do business with

Do these ring true as I sit here on a Monday morning - yeah they do - but what of church ?

At our clergy day we were presented with some startling findings from Barna research in the States

Taylor Snodgrass of Church of the 20somethings offers some firsthand insights: “Our generation has been advertised at our whole life, and even now on social media,” he says. “Consequently, when a company isn’t being authentic with their story we can easily see through this. If the church isn’t giving you the whole story, if it’s sugarcoated and they’re trying to put on an act on stage, people in their 20s will see through this. This causes us to leave. We’re good at seeing when people are lying to us.”

Having been pointed to as a place of research I discovered an interesting piece 

Why Millennials stay connected to the church 


Millennials are craving depth—a need the Church is uniquely poised to meet.

1.    Make room for meaningful relationships.
2.    Teach cultural discernment.
3.    Make reverse mentoring a priority.
4.    Embrace the potency of vocational discipleship.
5.    Facilitate connection with Jesus.

This again is true ... 

Isn't it?

So ... what can be done?

Within the church, Ok Church is as big a term as Millennials ... so let me be personal ... within The Church of Ireland, again a big term but it'll do for now!

We have the opportunity to begin to re-think what church is for, and begin to ask the questions of what needs to be done as the way its being done in many places ain't working - or at the very least is not working the best it could be.

Do I have the answers? nope! do I have lots of questions? - you bet I do! So let's start with those and see where this journey goes to!

1. Where is the church interacting well with the Millennial Generation? 

We as church leaders need to get past labels ... we're very good at labels - we like them immensely - Evangelical, conservative, liberal, inclusive, Charismatic - labels are useful for identification but actually we're called to be Body together. Can we find ways to share what's working well together? without the non-sense of thinking 
a. "I don't want to stick my head above the parapet" 
b. "who do they think they are"  
 c. its only a really small thing I'm doing in Ballycorner parish - it really doesn't matter. 

I really do believe that there are some great examples of simple things happening - we need to find ways of sharing best practice between parishes and churches - not as a way of copying each other but sparking creative ideas and showing that this stuff is not rocket science!

2. Please ... don't set up another committee/department/council to look at this problem! - so how?

We in the church like our committees and our departments.  There is a problem - the figures show that there are only 6-7% of our  20-30's in church on a Sunday. Could this be the impetus we need to make changes that are long overdue - because if we get this right for this generation then possibly, just possibly the church might turn a corner and grow? 

What this isn't is a call to contemporary music, throw out the pews, and ditch the robes call. NO!, NO!  NO!

This cuts across all of our styles, preferences, urban - rural, churchmanship, theological and whatever divides we can name.

For me, its a fundamental shift in our thinking at local church level that's needed - The local church ... not at diocesan, or central church but at LOCAL CHURCH - Where members of this generation turn up to on a sunday morning - our front doors!

The Millenials are seeking authenticity and as I talk to those older than me  - so are they! . Paradigm shifts have occurred in our society over the past 20 years and we as the church need to figuring out what those shifts mean and how do we speak gospel into our market places, into our places of influence. 

A good place to start this conversation I believe is to look Look at the 5 things listed above (and now here) at what research has shown this Millennial generation who have stuck with church sees as reasons why they have done so. The great thing is that these 5 surely aren't so far removed from what any generation of the church has been longing for - are they? but perhaps other generations need to be challenged? 

1.    Make room for meaningful relationships.
2.    Teach cultural discernment.
3.    Make reverse mentoring a priority.
4.    Embrace the potency of vocational discipleship.
5.    Facilitate connection with Jesus.

Meaningful relationship - In our Un-scientific, round the table discussions on Saturday evening this was spoken about time after time - and this blogger wouldn't be where he is now if it weren't for the relationships of mature Christians at home and away from home. 

Church at its very best is where relationships are worked on, that go beyond the trivial and where deep things of God, life in all its mess are discussed and where you know you belong.  I have lots of questions around this ... including 

  • where do we cultivate relationships? do our relationships go beyond hello? relationship building takes time, where do we have the time? how do we foster in our congregations meaningful relationships? 
Teaching Cultural Discernment - 

For a generation that already laments the complexity of modern life, the Church can offer valuable clarity. Millennials need help learning how to apply their hearts and minds to today’s cultural realities. In many ways, pop culture has become the driver of religion for Millennials, so helping them think and respond rightly to culture should be a priority. 
Although, such development must also take care to avoid the overprotective impulses that are driven by fear of culture. Rather, Millennials need guidance on engaging culture meaningfully, and from a distinctly Christian perspective. This idea of finding a way to bring their faith in Jesus to the problems they encounter in the world seems to be one of the most powerful motivations of today’s practicing Christian Millennials. They don’t want their faith to be relegated to Sunday worship, and this desire for holistic faith is something the Church can speak to in a meaningful way

This is huge ... in terms of the world around about us today - the time spent unpacking some of the big themes of our culture needs to happen. Also giving us the tools to link faith and life together. 

So questions I have in this area include - how does the 10-15minute  sermon on a sunday do this? ... where can questions be asked? are we as preachers listening to culture as we apply scripture? where else does teaching happen? how can we be more culturally aware of those we have responsibility for? is the church at large discerning the big questions of our culture? 

Reverse Mentoring 
This one I say AMEN, AMEN and AMEN to ... 

is that young people want to be taken seriously today—not for some distant future leadership position. In their eyes, institutional church life is too hierarchical. And they’re not interested in earning their way to the top so much as they’re want to put their gifts and skills to work for the local church in the present—not future—tense.
The term “reverse mentoring” has come to describe this kind of give and take between young and established leaders.
We as the church need to take this one very seriously - we need to empower our young adults and dare I say my generation - Not simply so that we get new titles nor are on the right committees - but that we engage gifts and skills in the local church

Where does change need to happen?, where are our under 35's on vestries, synods, wardens. So many of our 18-30's are leaders in their work places, in schools and when they come to church are we telling them they have to wait? how do we as leaders empower our young adults ... not only in leadership - as if leadership is the only thing that is to be desired but in using their gifts, skills and abilities for the building up of God's Kingdom and the church? do we spend time learning from them and inviting them to teach us as leaders, mentoring us in new ways to lead and new insights into the culture around about us?

Vocational Discipleship - At the minute around the church Discipleship seems to be the buzz word - intentional, missional, vocational discipleship. Great but what does it mean? for me its quite simple - It means having our 'L' plates firmly up - I've talked about this many times and have preached many sermons on the topic.

The question is am I, are we doing it?, are we living out what we're preaching?, are we modelling discipleship and good discipleship? I'm not convinced - "speak for yourself" you might say and I say - I do - very much so!

To me life as a disciple is a call to learning, its a call to reaching out with the gospel, its a call to journey with God. It's not a call to build an institution (although institutions are important), Its a call to live lightly, to be on the move.

“vocational discipleship - a way to help Millennials connect to the rich history of Christianity with their own unique work God has called them to."
How do we help this, my, generation connect the treasures of the gospels / The whole of scripture with their unique work where God has them today?  In the parish we're calling this "This Time Tomorrow" - based upon work which the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity has been thinking about.
What good practices are there in helping our young adults connect with God, Scripture and discipleship? what help do they/we need to do this more effective?

   Facilitate connection with Jesus - ultimately this is what the church is trying to do ...
Of course, many church leaders are already trying to connect biblical authority to a personal relationship with Jesus for their young people. So what is happening to thwart these efforts?
Kinnaman explains, “In part, it is a failure of not connecting Jesus and the Bible to the other outcomes identified in this research—relational, missional, vocational and cultural discernment. In other words, the version of ‘Jesus in a vacuum’ that is often packaged for young people doesn’t last long compared to faith in Christ that is not compartmentalized but wholly integrated into all areas of life.”

This is possibly where the failure occurs - where does this happen? - the integration into the whole of life. Everything points either to Jesus or away from him. Thankfully God is a forgiving God and he knows that we are human, he knows our failures, our faults, our limitations BUT and its a big BUT, he also calls us to repentance, turning and moving on. If connection with Jesus is not happening, if fruit is not being produced we might need to look at the processes that we're using and see if there are certain variables we need to change.

When we look at the culture in Ireland today - it is changed hugely from what it was 10, 15, 20, 50 years ago. As has been pointed out we're living in a network society where we might not know our neighbours but we do know what our school friend who now lives on the other side of the world had for breakfast and where they went for a run this morning. In this rapidly changing world the church needs to do things differently. What those things are - I don't know - I don't have an agenda about this but my heart is that people would have a connection with Jesus - It's the only thing that will last!

The church has this ultimate riches that is Christ Jesus ... how do we share this with the generations that are alive today that we have responsibility for? Its a conversation we need to have ... and quickly!

On the other hand ...

Do we need to have this conversation at all? are we OK? will it just work itself out and they/we'll all comeback to church if we keep going the way we've always done things?

Very Happy for comments and dialogue on this - either on comments via Facebook or on Blog ... or even better over a cuppa somewhere, sometime :-)

Lord of the church, we pray for our renewing:
 Christ over all, our undivided aim.
Fire of the Spirit, burn for our enduing,
 wind of the Spirit, fan the living flame!
We turn to Christ amid our fear and failing,
 the will that lacks the courage to be free,
the weary labours, all but unavailing,
 to bring us nearer what a church should be.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Messy Church / Traditional Church - Dialogue- Post 1

This time a week ago I had just arrived at the High Leigh Conference Centre in England to help out as team at the Messy Church International Conference. 

Over 200 People arrived from across the world with Delegates from New Zealand and Australia, South Africa, USA, Canada, various European Countries and the British Isles. It was a fantastic few days. Lots of comments can be found on the twitter hashtag #MCIC2016.

This blog I want to focus on the formal-ish conversations I was asked to lead on the dialogue that is / needs to be happening between Messy Church and Traditional Church across the world and across the denominations. I'm aware that I come to this from a very particular perspective - that of an Anglican Priest - used to traditional church and love the formality of the book of Common Prayer and the structures within the Anglican way of "doing Church".

I came to the conversation with 3 questions:

Firstly - What questions are / should / could traditional church be asking of Messy Church?
Secondly - What questions are / should / could Messy Church be asking of traditional church?
Thirdly - What are the common points where this dialogue could/should take place?

So having over 40 people in my two conversations lots of questions were identified - from actual experience

What questions are / should / could traditional church be asking of Messy Church?

  • How can we learn from messy Church ?
  • How can we have time for messy Church when we are busy doing Sunday/Traditional Church?
  • When are you going to be doing the Eucharist and are you “real” church if you don't do it liturgically”?
  • How many Un-churched are coming?
  • Do Messy Church have an Organisational Structure?
  • How will Messy Church grow themselves without a traditional church to support it? 
  • When are the Messy Church people going to come to ‘real’ church? 
  • Is it really All age? 
  • How do we respect Lay Leaders? 
  • What is this the future of TC if there are now newcomers - who is going to take up the baton? 
  • Is MC draining energy from the church? 
  • How can TC adopt the concepts of MC ? 
  • Is MC just for Children?  
  • When is MC going to pay towards the parish? 
  • Where are the sacraments in MC? 
  • TC feels vulnerable because of MC. How is that helpful for the future? 
  • Are we being too closed minded? 
  • Should we be more open-minded? 
  • Who is MC for? What is family? 
  • When will they come to real church? 
  • Is there a conflict between TC & MC? 
  • Where are the future role holders going to come from? 
  • What is the teaching of MC? 
  • Does TC still matter? 
  • Is MC the only way to get children involved? 
  • What does parish/church council think of MC? 
  • Is it OK to go to both / one/ either? 
  • Do people have to make a choice between TC & MC? 

What questions are / should / could Messy Church be asking of traditional church?

  • How can we get recognition of time requirements of Sunday Church and need to get get permission to stop Sunday Jobs ?
  • How can we get permission to make changes to the structures and organisational rules that are preventing us from doing what we believe God has called us to do  ?
  • How can we be together ?
  • How can we pray for you ?
  • How can we get recognition as ‘church’ not a stepping stone to church? 
  •  What are the treasures that we need to have that you have? 
  • What would make you feel welcome / want to come to visit us? 
  • Are we going to be taken seriously? 
  • What makes you think its just a kids club with no value? 
  • What do you want to know about Messy Church? 
  • If we dont do this where do you see yourself in 20-50 years?

What are the common points where this dialogue could/should take place?

  • Knowing that we don't have all the answers 
  • Mutual Respect - both recognising the needs of others 
  • Sharing of prayer 
  • sacred Memories 
  • Sharing the physical space 
  • We have the same motivation and the same Gospel - The foundations are the same 
  • The needing to unpick the meaning of Church 
  • Sacraments and Weddings are Celebrated 
  • Communication on a personal level 
  • Sharing of ideas 
  • Prayer for each other - Commitment & Needs (Actual and people) 
  • Breaking down barriers 
  • Respecting the validity of TC and MC 
  • Recognition energy limitations of people 
  • Listening to each other 
  • Shared resources 
  • Open access to equipment and storage 
  • Food 
  • Mothers' Union / Other organisations with shared values
We could and probably should be exploring each one of these points in detail as each one of them could lead to an understanding of Ecclesiology- our understanding of the church whether this be traditional or Messy.  

To some reading this some of these questions may seem to be radical, problematic, and maybe even judgemental - they really aren't meant to be that way - but questions asked demand answers - and some answers may be No, some answers may take a lifetime to answer and some might lead to a whole life of discernment. 

For me there are a couple of fundamental questions which I'm playing around with - for me the three/four are

  • Is Messy Church Really All-Age? 
  • What Treasures does Traditional Church have that Messy Church needs? 
  • How can Messy Church work with organisations with Shared Values? /
  • Messy Church & Sacraments

I wonder if you were to pick one question / issue out of each section to wrestle with - what would they be?  feel free to comment below / facebook / blog. 

We concluded each session with reading from 1 Corinthians reminding us that we are part of the body and one part cant say to another part we dont need you 

The Importance of Mutual sharing - And learning from One another

Could Messy Church wake traditional Church (which is very word and cerebral) to the understanding of learnings styles and help it rediscover some which it may have lost on the whole

How can we make the points of dialogue places of creative engagement and what forums do we have for those?

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Worship and Service - Daniel 3

Worship and Service
Daniel 3

This is the first sermon I've got around to blogging in a long time ... maybe its time to restart again! - This sermon was preached at our Sunday AM Holy Communion Service in Carrigrohane

May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be now and always acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen

We in the Church talk about Worship Service as something to go along to  … but this morning I would like to separate these two words to mean something different apart from each other As we listen to the reading I’d love you to listen to how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the king and the accusers talk about both worship and service – They are highlighted on your sheets.

Let’s listen to the reading – follow along on the sheets you have.
The first thing to notice is that both Worship and Service are effective – they are verbs they are about doing things.  They are actions that have consequences.

Who they worship, who they serve is important
The context here is in an empire which has conquered Daniel and his friends  and the king is trying to unite his people in worship with him being the subject of that worship – however he doesn’t seem to have counted on the fact that people would have much problem with this as – Babylon was a place of many gods. 

This Statue which was setup was huge – 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide

What is also interesting is the people who daubed the 3 in to the king … These were the Chaldean whose lives Daniel and his friends saved just before this event (2:24) probably they were jealous of his instant rise to fame but how quickly they forgot that they had him to thank for sparing their lives!
So back to the text – This event shows the competing options of worship Gold statue v’s living God

This of course has been the challenge for the Israelites down through the years

Whether it be in the wilderness - the golden cow or the Ashera poles of the other religions on the Israel’s borders – the temptation has always been to veer off and do something which God himself commanded them not to do in the fundamental doctrine of the Law – in the 10 Commandments     

They are looking back at – refusing to serve your gods, refusing to worship your statue

The 3 are charged with refusing to complete the kings command – but the king doesn’t realise who he’s dealing with – he doesn’t realise the limits to his power I love the question he asks at the end of verse 15 - And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”

What god can rescue you? … What god has power? … What god deserves the worship and service?

The Testimony of the 3 is the testimony of persecuted down through the years
O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

It’s the same testimony the Christians made – across the years – in periods of persecution – in periods of rule of dictators.

In our vocabulary we still talk about serving God and Worshipping him
Thankfully we’re not in a land where we’re persecuted, we’re not in a land where we’ll get thrown into a firey furnace for not bowing down to a demi-god  but in our application of this passage

Away from home – Let’s remember that there are people alive today who are in very similar positions to Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego with a 11 -hour flight North Korea, 7 Hours – Eiritrea

"My mother spoke with me in a calm voice, but her eyes were red and swollen: 'Four agents from the National Security Agency raided our house. They confiscated one of the Bibles and arrested Father.'"Hee Young's* family was broken apart in the mid-nineties when the North Korean authorities raided a secret worship meeting in her house. Her father disappeared and she never saw him again. Many other Christians were arrested at the same time.Christians are viewed as hostile to the regime.Choosing to follow Jesus is one of the most dangerous decisions a person can make in North Korea. If discovered, they face arrest, torture, imprisonment, and perhaps even public execution. In the case of Hee Young's family, they were banished to a remote area. But thousands of Christians are incarcerated in prison camps in North Korea, and most will stay there until they die.And yet, many have decided that knowing Jesus is worth it. Their only Bible may be in their mind. They may never meet with more than one other believer. They may never say the name of Jesus aloud. But the church in North Korea is not only surviving, but growing - and they have great hope for the future.
 EIRITREA  - Or When Senet* was arrested for refusing to put the state before her faith in Jesus, she was put in a small cell with 55 other women."We were so tightly crammed in that we could not sit properly, let alone lie down to sleep. We were forced to work long hours without rest. My
immediate commander was especially cruel."But in a dream one night I saw myself fighting with and defeating a very strong man. In the dream I was surprised by my strength and wondered how I had managed to defeat him."The so-called 'People's Front for Democracy and Justice' exerts absolute control over its citizens, including their religious life. All religious groups must be registered. Christians are considered a threat to the state; their houses have been attacked, and they have been tortured, beaten and imprisoned in horrific conditions. Some are detained in metal shipping containers in scorching temperatures.

In our world today the extremes of people who are standing up for worshipping the living God is huge – trying to understand this in Ireland in near impossible – but we’re linked to our brothers and sisters in diverse parts of the world. How do we do that … I believe the first part is simply finding out information about them – is a good start!

What about at Home when we look at worship & Service
Is it singing songs?, is it about liturgy? – passages like this remind us that worship is costly. We’ve got to remember that what we do is counter cultural.

Wise is the church that seeks to be “in” but not “of” the world (John 15:19), resisting aspects of the culture that compromise the integrity of the gospel, and eagerly engaging its culture with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who comes to each culture, but is not bound by any culture.

How we do this is such a vital question – what are the things in our culture are we prepared to stand up to the prevailing culture and say a definitive No! to – even if it means we’ll be looked down upon or even be persecuted for.

This may mean regular everyday things with groups of friends saying no to drugs, no to underage drinking. For others it may be decisions in the work place, not going with the prevailing shoal – swimming against the tide.

Daniels friends would not compromise – they knew the boundaries and weren't prepared to go beyond them. What’s our boundaries and are we prepared to stand our ground?

Service – is simply doing the things – serving the living God is the stuff we’ve just looked at in previous weeks Fruitfulness on our front lines – getting on and producing the fruit – living out how God has called us to live.

Let’s Pray