Archive for June, 2007

On the Nile

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

Cairo Night

This is my view this evening of the Nile in the heart of Cairo.

It’s been a day packed meeting with folks here who are doing some thrilling things when it comes to representing Jesus both far and near. I’ve learned much. The diversity and magnitude of what God does to see His name renowned among the nations and the worship of his Son extended is astounding.

During my day, I’ve seen again that the missionary purpose of a gracious and ever-redeeming God can never be put into boxes or relegated to a limited number of human structures. His persistent pursuit of a wayward humanity is staggering to the imagination, not just that he would do it but that he would do it with such infinite creativity and accommodation to our limitations.

Deo Gloria!

re:HOPE

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Re-Hope Leadership Scotland Building

It is so refreshing to see a ministry environment where the talking and philosophizing have stopped and the action is simply happening. That’s what I saw this past week with re:HOPE, a vibrant, healthy church plant in Glasgow.

Brian Ingraham (CRM staff in Glasgow) leads the team (above left) which gives leadership to this new expression of the body of Christ. Some in that group became followers of Jesus at re:Hope. It’s attracting students from the nearby university, many of whom have had little exposure to authentic, historic Christianity, only the caricatures of institutionalized religion that most of their peers have rejected out of hand.

re:HOPE is nothing fancy. In fact, I think its simplicity has contributed to its effectiveness in reaching people and changing lives: a bold commitment to study, proclaim, and live the Bible, loving relationships that create a safe place, prevailing prayer where the hand of God is moved, representing Jesus in the things of everyday life, sensitivity to hearing from God and responding to the Sprit’s leading, and a passionate love for God that is producing a holy boldness in some of these young Scots that would make their Reformer ancestors proud!

The building (upper right) re:HOPE leases is a defunct Church of Scotland facility that hasn’t had a church use it since the 50s. It’s kind of cool (it’s actually physically that way too) to see life return and this musty old limestone structure become a gathering place for all sorts of ministry possibilities. And it is particularly thrilling to see the sense of apostolic vision being imparted: new spin-offs being planned for Ireland, other parts of Scotland, and Scots being encouraged to follow Jesus in a variety of other Kingdom ventures.

Being an observer of what God is doing there was like watching a video of Ezekiel 37:

“This is what the Lord say, ‘O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, I will bring you back to the land of Israel …I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it says the Lord.”

CRM-UK

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Crm-Uk-1

Despite a host of logistical and financial challenges, we believe God has clearly been leading CRM to establish more of a presence in Great Britain. We believe it is a strategic crossroads for much of the world.

We’ve moved to base four teams of CRM missionaries there: NieuCommunities is in Glasgow; a CRM-International team is also in Scotland and focused on planting new churches; CRM-UK in London is growing and making a good contribution to the health and vibrancy of the British church; and InnerCHANGE (CRM’s order among the poor) is getting established in poor areas of London’s East End. I personally hope to hub a variety of CRM-CoNext functions out of London as well in the years to come.

Those of us in London—Brits, Americans and Aussies—all got together recently for an evening dinner which included those who serve on the CRM-UK Board. I’m grateful for this exceptionally gifted, capable cadre of leaders who are quietly and humbly working to be a blessing not only to the UK, but through it to the world.

Pub in a church (building) …

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

Cottiersjpg-1

This is Cottiers. It’s a bar/pub that has taken over a defunct Church of Scotland in Glasgow’s west end.

It is probably more of a happening place now then it was during its last days housing the remnants of a dying church. At least the drinks are good.

Inept Leadership

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

Simpsons-The-Scream-4900914

It is maddening!

Patty and I enjoyed dinner this evening with a couple who, since 2001, have pioneered an incredible church planting minsitry in the midlands of England. They started by using a cafe and as relationships were built, graduated those interested into their “church in the pub” down the street. Their work has attracted a menagerie of wounded, broken souls who would never darken the door of a typical church.

But now, their denomination has had enough of such unorthodox ministry. In a very political move, the traditionalists who oversee them have declared them “redundant” and said “Thanks, but your services are no longer needed.”

While such leadership abuse is tragic, it may be a blessing in disguise and finally help this wonderful couple eject from a broken system and allow them to transition into a ministry posture where they will be blessed and appreciated for their apostolic giftedness and passion.

I wish this was an isolated anomoly. But it’s not. The more I scratch the surface of British institutional religion, I keep coming across church leadership that is exquisitely educated, brilliantly intellectual, amazingly articulate, vision-less and bureaucratic.

So it is not surprising that when such people control the power, the money and the positions, the institutions they lead are dying, even if they don’t recognize it. It is also not surprising that God is not stymied by such leadership ineptitude and will accomplish his purposes in new, fresh kingdom expressions and structures that out of necessity must circumvent the establishment. It has always been that way throughout the history of the Christian movement. And it always will be. But it is still maddening!

Leadership In Hungary

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

Heisers Heisers Metcalfs

Tamas and Zsofia Heiser are with Barnabas Csoport, CRM’s ministry in Hungary, and are moving toward the role of leading that team.

This comes after a church planting experience over the past decade where God used them to birth and give leadership to a healthy group of believers in Zalaegerszeg in the southern part of the country.

While a highly respected pastor and leader in his community, denomination and throughout the country, Tamas is making the move to Barnabas Csoport because he sees the acute need for leadership in the church that is and the church that needs to be in Hungary and beyond. His situation is also another vivid example of an apostolic leader that needs an apostolic structure to accomplish all that God intends for his life. Tamas’ sense of vision and calling has moved beyond the boundaries of one local context. A gifted musician, teacher and great mom, Zsofia plays an integral role in all that has transpired and how God will use them in the future. She fully shares this step into the turbulent world of the missionary.

While Tamas may not be as “frustrated” in the same sense as Eric (February 7, 2006 post in Apostolic Ecclesiology), he’s cut out of the same cloth. He, Zsofia, and their three children are in the process of selling their home and moving to Budapest. They are taking some bold, sacrificial steps to follow God’s leading in their lives, steps that God will bless and through which the Church and God’s kingdom purposes will be enriched throughout this region of the world.

Impressions of Serbia

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

Serbia Worship Serbia Worship #2

I am in Serbia. My first time in the country. I’m here with several CRM staff who live and minister just northward in Hungary.

Stepping across the boarder into this ancient land I had flashbacks of living in Ukraine and time spent in Russia, Romania and other portions of the former Soviet bloc. The scars from the war after the breakup of Yugoslavia and the NATO bombing campaign are mostly erased in the physical landscape but not quite so in the social psyche.

Nominally Serbian Orthodox, the vast bulk of the population is oblivious to religion and secularized. The Protestant presence is a tiny minority. One Serbian leader commented that there were more believers in Timisoara, Romania than in the whole nation of Serbia. The large city in which we were had only five churches (across a broad theological spectrum) of an evangelical nature.

In light of these realities, the gathering pictured above was quite remarkable. It was a day-long celebration at the end of a nationwide 78 days of prayer and fasting that took place throughout the Protestant churches …equivalent to the same duration of the NATO bombing. Seven different worship teams and believers from throughout the country gathered for the day and we had the privilege of being guests at the gathering. What Serbian believers may lack in numbers, they make up for in passion.

The contribution of the CRM staff here, as in many places around the world, is to graciously encourage, coach, and mentor leadership for the church that is and for the church that needs to emerge. This effort in Serbia has been initiated by the CRM team in Hungary and they are doing are a good job of building relationships of trust upon which such ministry can be built.

Let’s be clear …

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

 Architecture Stpauls

Let me be clear.

In some of my observations of the spiritual landscape in urban London that have been posted the past several weeks …

1. I am lamenting the waste of real estate and resources. No one should interpret that as advocating that these be converted into church models like one would see in the U.S. or elsewhere. Nor am I suggesting that they return to the days of yesteryear and a Christendom hegemony that has long since passed. I’m lamenting the waste, the money and physical resources tied up by ecclesiastical bureaucracies that could be put to alternative missional use, creative and appropriate to the needs of this setting.

2. I fully realize that God is doing much in this context “under the radar.” He’s not limited and is patiently accomplishing his purposes in new and fresh expressions that are bypassing all the visible and institutional.

3. Simultaneously, I am impressed by some of what I see in some of the existing, historic structures such as I alluded to in the post regarding St. Mary’s. I am, by no means, writing off all that exists.

3. I am not ripping the church. I am critiquing forms that institutionalized Christianity has taken that are ineffective, irrelevant and counter-productive to people living out in their culture what the genuine “ecclesia”—the called out ones of Jesus—could be.

4. I heard one Anglican bishop state last year that approximately 40% of the British population could be reached effectively by existing churches and parishes of the Church of England if they were spiritually alive, healthy and vibrant. Even if that did happen (which is certainly an admirable focus of those so called but simultaneously a stretch considering that less that 1% of the British population attends the Church of England on any given Sunday), what happens to the other 60%?

5. The “blessing in disguise” of such institutional marginalization is that those serious about God’s missional call are figuring out how to get out there where the people and where the culture really are. Desperation is marvelous mid-wife for creativity and invention. The lack of such is one of the dilemmas of the American scene where few in the Christian sub-culture are really desperate. Complacency, comfort, personal peace and prosperity have carried the day.

6. Would that God would graciously allow Britain to experience a spiritual renaissance. With the incredible legacy this nation has and the remarkable contribution it has made to the worldwide Christian movement over the past 1,000 years, could it be that some of its greatest days could in fact lie ahead? God make it so.

The Exchange

Friday, June 8th, 2007

Royal Stock Exchange Ryoal Stock Exchange #2

Situated around one intersection in the heart of London lies the Royal Stock Exchange and Bank of England, historically and even today two of the most strategically and influential financial institutions in the world.

The inscription above the Royal Exchange is a direct quote from Psalm 24:1 – “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.”

Nice sentiment. But to believe such biblical reality has ever substantially influenced those who labor in such institutions historically or has any sway for those who enter under its gaze today is revisionism and wishful thinking. And because this bastion of capitalism has not been influenced in such a way, it has fostered such reactions as communism which in its truest sense was an attempt to correct the unbiblical injustices inherent in rampant capitalism.

I can’t help but imagine what it would have been like for a Karl Marx to have walked under this facade during the years he lived in London (1849 til his death in 1883). Could the overt hypocrisy of what he saw contributed in any way to his sweeping indictment of religion in his social and economic theory? One can only wonder.

Such waste. Such potential.

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

Building In Estates

Surrounded by a sea of “estate housing”—the British term for public housing that in most cases is shabby tenaments—is this island of a bygone era of establishment Christianity.

This Anglican church building and parish house sits squarely in the middle of London high rise flats teaming with immigrants from South Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. It is a population desperate for the presence of Jesus to be effectively conveyed in word and deed. Instead, what the poor see is a building that looks more like an impenetrable fortress. It appears to be a parish that muddles on with good intentions, barely ale to maintain its liturgically irrelevant rites that are a total disconnect with the neighborhood that engulfs it. The waste of this physical resource is heartbreaking.

Late at night, John Hayes, Tom Middleton and I sat on the wall that surrounds this building and asked God to give it to us or to someone who would take such a strategically place piece of real estate and seek to use it effectively for significant kingdom purposes. It would make a incredible ministry center with housing for missionaries and teams that could serve this area and others. The potential is enormous. Make it so Lord Jesus.

Institutional Irrelevance

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

Shoreditch Church #1 Shoreditch Church #3 Shoreditch Church #2

One of the shocking juxtapositions in Shoreditch is to see clubs teeming with people and overflowing with a pulsating search for significance all under the shadow of an institutional Christianity that has become a total disconnect. So much so, that the area is full of church buildings that have been converted to other uses.

Such irrelevance is not surprising considering the magnitude of the cultural difference between these archaic symbols of the Christianity of a bygone era and the realities of contemporary urban life under their very eaves. Here are three such examples within several blocks of each other. Two are restaurants. One apartment flats.

To see such resources go to waste when they could be bases for incredible ministry in this context is enough to make one scream if not cry. If our reaction is so visceral to such waste, I cannot imagine how God must weep at such a myopic lack of vision.

Shoreditch

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Shoreditch Club

Shoreditch is one of the happening areas of London.

Adjacent to “the City” which is the financial heart of England, Shoreditch has been historically a gritty, semi-industrial area until the last decade when it has been transformed into a district teaming with clubs. Along with John Hayes (InnerCHANGE) and Tom Middleton (CRM-UK), I spent a muggy Saturday evening cruising this area. I was stunned by the crowds streaming into the clubs.

There were many nuances to what we experienced. Some streets and spots catered to the trendy, some to the artistic, some to affluent up-and-comers, some to the overtly nihilistic. But there were commonalities throughout: hoards of people in their 20s and 30s looking for action; the free flow of alcohol and other substances; and virtually everyone casting about in search of some form of meaningful relationships often sought in the illusion of a sexual encounter.

It was a living, moving human scene crying out for meaning. Beneath the superficiality of the clubbing culture lies a deep reservoir of social and psychological pain, an environment begging for people who can be sensitive, authentic and incarnational conduits of the transforming love of Jesus. Any takers?

” Give an answer …with gentleness and respect.”

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Speakers Corner #3 Speakers Corner #1

Speaker’s Corner occupies the northeast corner of Hyde Park in the heart of London. It’s famous turf.

I’ve been there numerous times, but never on a humid Sunday summer afternoon with such a crushing crowd. As always there were knots of vigorous conversation and heated debate going on throughout the area. But what was so riveting and jaw dropping for me were the soap-box orators, some bellowing at the top of their voices messages of apocalyptic fire and brimstone.

Speakers Corner #2 Speakers Corner #4

I can’t begin to understand how anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus would not cringe at the vitriol that was being spewed out on that crowd by fiery preachers who I’m sure felt they were God’s agents in the mold of the Old Testament prophets. It was embarrassing. What I saw and heard was far from the Petrine admonition to “be ready to give an answer …with gentleness and respect.” (I Peter 3:15). Far from it.

I suspect in God’s providence, some of the truth that was spoken may have fallen on receptive ears. But I’m not sure it was worth the many more who were repulsed and disgusted by the ugly caricature of Christianity that was on such unfortunate display.

Anglican Vibrancy

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

St. Mary's Exterior St. Mary's Interior
In a stunning Edwardian structure that has been meticulously restored, the Anglican congregation of St. Mary’s meets in central London.

It appears to be a vibrant, growing expression of the body of Christ. I am impressed by the diversity and the appeal of this church among younger urban professionals. There seems to be a healthy appreciation of the arts and a keen understanding of what life and ministry entails in such a secularized European setting.

St. Mary’s is an fascinating combination of the spiritual vibrancy akin to what we experience in California at New Song Church combined with an emphasis on ministry and giftedness that one would find in a healthy Vineyard, all wrapped up in an Anglican context with a sprinkling of English understatedness.

We look forward to hanging out here in the weeks ahead when we’re in the city.