Archive for the 'Europe' Category

Airline Stories, continued …

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

It was back in the days right after the demise of communism and the advent of the “new” Russia, and I was schedule for a flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

In those days throughout the Eastern Bloc, domestic flights were from different airports than international air traffic, and the Moscow domestic airport was reminiscent of a Greyhound bus station in an American inner-city …grimy, dirty, horrible sanitation, with all sorts of sleazy characters hanging out.  And nothing was computerized.  Flight manifests, passenger lists, and reservations were all done manually.

As we were checking in for the flight – which meant having our names crossed off of a list – I had a large bag that needed to be checked through.  As the porter was taking the bag away from the counter, I noticed to my horror the bright red tag that had been attached to it read: “CALCUTTA.”

I dove for the bag, saying “Nyet, Nyet, Nyet!  Sankt Petersburg!”  Nyet, Calcutta!”

He shrugged his shoulders, and responded in broken English, “Sorry, sir.  All we have today.” When I arrived in St. Petersburg, the bag was there.  Go figure.

That tag still sits in my desk drawer, a visual reminder that no matter how crummy it gets on most of the airlines in the present day, not much can compare with the residue of Karl Marx’s influence on aviation.

Telling the truth in the UK

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

st-pauls.jpg

I spent part of yesterday with a insightful missiologist who lives here in the UK. He is not some young, radical, grenade-throwing deconstructionist, rather a respected, older (than me) mission expert with extensive experience in church planting movements and particularly ministry in the Islamic world.

His comments about Christianity in England, and about Europe at large, were jolting. His observations sobering. Here are a few gems, or bombshells depending, on one’s perspective:

“In Europe as a whole, little can be done missionally with the existing, institutional church. It’s over.

At the same time, there is no use criticizing the existing institutional church. It is a good “holding tank” for modern people who are believers.

The existing church is helpless in relating to the culture around it with spiritual reality and relevance. Take for example, the Alpha course. Only 5% of the people converted through it are in the church 5 years later. 85% converted through it have had previous contact with the church. But only 8% of England is made up of such 1st or 2nd generation Christians. 92% is 2nd generation “pagan.” That means that 92% can’t even understand what the church is talking about.

The church in England, of all persuasions, has no idea how to converse with people outside its doors. The institution here is fortressed. Christendom is hunkered down in the bunkers.

The Celtic model is a good model for Europe. Small, apostolic communities which were a blessing to the community but were “outside” of the existing social structure.

Being non-conformist is not esteemed in England. For things to start outside of the box, they need to be started by people outside of the box and by people who are willing to be persecuted.

People with apostolic gifting plant new vineyards and don’t stop and become winemakers.

The Christian movement in Britian does not know how to stand up in the face of radical Islam. To do so will need a dramatic realignment within the culture and within the family. Instead, most Christians are terrified of Muslims.

Of the 20-25 initiatives I am aware that are actively attempting to minister among Muslims in London, all are church-based and none are effective.

Statistically, 2015 to 2020 is the tipping point where Muslim influence will be predominant in Europe.

Modernity in Europe is absolutely entrenched in the institutional expressions of church. Europe doesn’t need a new reformation. We need a whole new expression of the Kingdom of God in the West that embraces community and family, where individuals are important but not more important than the group.”

Back to Camden

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

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“Rush hour Camden seethes with human beings like an old rat corpse seethes with maggots. Though rush hour on the Northern Line remains the true sardine experience, the line is on the whole better than its reputation suggests. Anyway, if you get really fed up with it you can do the sensible thing (ecologically and financially) and get a bicycle.” – Stuck in London Tour Guide

We arrived in the UK —living in the London borough of Camden— and will be here through the end of July. So I did the sensible thing yesterday. I bought a bike.

Jesus has left the building

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

church.jpg

While the outside of the building was massive and imposing, it gave little hint to the spectacular interior. Stain glass, a huge valeted ceiling, and stone and woodwork that were remarkable in their artistic genius.

I’ve passed this church building numerous occasions during our stays in London. So yesterday to get out of my hotel and get a break from the computer, I hiked the neighborhood and decided to explore this edifice. I found an open door and went in. It was just me and a lady doing some cleaning.

I discovered there are about 130 active members of this congregation in a building that could easily accommodate a thousand. The parish newsletter was even sadder …a ministry that sacramentalizes a dwindling and dying population. Incredibly depressing.

As I marveled at this architectural relic, the words that came were almost audible: “Jesus has left the building!”

From there, I wandered across the street and came across a totally different scene. It was a Saturday morning, open air swap meet swarming with hundreds of people from every imaginable ethnic background. The smells, textures, colors, languages, all made for an incredibly diverse and vibrant setting. The contrast could not have been more stark.

Which way Anglicans?

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

St Pauls Cathedral[1]

Do you jump ship on a sinking vessel or hang in there and try to save it?

That’s a perennial dilemma that many people face in denominations and churches that are on the downside of their life-cycle.

There is a part of me that genuinely longs to see a whole new wave of spiritual vitality and renewal sweep through the Anglican churches of Great Britain. I appreciate the incredible legacy of the institution and the way God has worked through it throughout history. And today there are some bright spots in the Church of England which include some gifted, godly people who feel God has led them to remain committed to what appears to be an ecclesiastical Titanic.

However, I have my doubts that this moribund institution will ever see again the type of movement of the Spirit of God that occurred during the four great awakenings and revivals that swept the Western world in the past 300 years and had profound effects at every level of British society. The ingredients, both internally and externally that would provide fertile ground for such a movement are simply not there.

What is encouraging is that God is not bound by such human limitations. His long-suffering and ongoing compassion toward a society such as contemporary England will not be thwarted by churchly forms that have lost their potency.

My guess is that the best hope for the UK is for to God multiply a new generation of Charles Simeons, inside or outside Anglican structures, through whom the transformational power of the Spirit will flow. They are the types of men and women I want to look for.

Deo planto is sic!

No one is buying what the Anglicans are selling

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Vestments

Perhaps one of the advantages of being cultural outsiders here in the UK is that we may have a little more objectivity than those immersed in their own culture. I know this happens in the States when those from outside American culture see what we don’t see because we are captives of our own surroundings.

The past couple of months, I have been overwhelmed, and sobered, by the presence and the state of the Anglican Church in Great Britain. There is virtually no place one can stand and not be in visual sight of an Anglican church building. The legacy of this institutional bastion of Christendom is astounding.

What is sobering, however, is how completely out of touch and irrelevant the overwhelming majority of the Anglican Communion seems to be to present day Britain. With less than 1-2% of the population ever attending a service in one of these historic relics called churches, you’d think the Anglican leadership would realize that what they are selling, no one is buying. If the Church of England was a business, the whole outfit would have been in bankruptcy a long time ago. (And from what I have begun to discover, it’s probably headed that way regardless. Apparently the only thing that keeps the institution afloat is selling off their properties and “redundant” churches).

It appears that the Church of England and its leaders are simply in a different universe than the culture around them. The communicative disconnect is jarring in a country where more than 1/3 of the people are admitted atheists or agnostics and more people in the UK attend mosques on Sunday than darken the door of an Anglican church.

On one hand, there is so much to admire about the Anglican heritage. The depth of the theological and liturgical tradition, and a remarkable legacy are attractive to anyone desiring a sense of rootedness and historicity. As with Orthodoxy and Catholicism, there will always be people drawn to the richness of a tradition that has evolved through the ages. Yet Anglicans hold fast to an attractionistic model of ministry that expects the secularized and increasingly postmodern populace to come to them, which simply will not happen.

What is also heartbreaking is to see the wasted resources. It’s staggering. If even a slight percentage of the buildings, parsonages, and properties that are owned by the Church of England were made available to people with spiritual passion and biblical vision—particularly in the emerging generation—the impact on this society could be profound.

An article in the magazine of the National Trust describes the future of the largest landholder in England. It laments that “…congregations and parish incomes are in a free fall” and over the next decade, “…the trickle of churches becoming redundant is predicted to become a torrent.”

It appears that theological and missiological realities have not been adequate motivational forces to generate the necessary renewal within the Church of England that could stem its slide into oblivion. Perhaps the immense practical pressure that money and property problems exert will force the desperately needed institutional change.

Regardless, God is not limited by such human institutions and will eventually bypass such forms to create new, vibrant expressions of his Kingdom presence. Such processes have happened over and over again throughout history and it’s no different today in contemporary Britain.

If only stones could talk …

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

St- Mary Woolnoth 8857
It’s about 3:30 on a gray, cold, overcast London afternoon. I’m sitting in a very uncomfortable, rickety wooden pew at the back of the church of St. Mary Woolnoth.

I’m the only one in the building. Only a few lights are on in a magnificent bronze chandelier that occupies the center of the room. It’s musty, dank and has that old building smell. It’s actually a little spooky

However, St. Mary Wolnoth occupies one of the most prominent sites of any church in London. It stands at the junction of Lombard and King William streets, under the shadow of the Bank of England and a stone’s throw away from the historic site of the London Exchange.

A church building has been on this site since 1191 and the structure in which I am sitting is the fourth iteration. The second was built in 1438, the third by the famous Christopher Wren (architect of St. Paul’s cathedral) in 1674, and the last by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1727. It’s a majestic example of English baroque architecture.

But what is most gripping is to imagine what happened here in centuries past. From 1779-1807, the rector was John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace. From the pulpit that rises above me, he preached vehemently against the evils of the slave trade and encouraged others such as William Wilberforce who led the battle for the abolition of slavery in the British empire. Also, Claudius Buchanan, who launched significant missionary efforts to India was inspired by Newton in this place as was Hannah Moore, the writer, social reformer and philanthropist, and others.

Newton was buried here in 1807. On my left is a marble plaque that carries the following epitaph which Newton himself wrote:

JOHN NEWTON
Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy
of our Lord and Savour
JESUS CHRIST
restored, pardoned, and
appointed to preach
the Gospel which he had
long laboured to destroy.

And now this building is a musty relic. Pretty much forgotten. Thousands of people pass by its doors every day here in the heart of London’s financial district, oblivious to what momentous, world transforming convictions had their genesis within these walls.

If only stones could talk.

Slavery Business Gallery 05 Plaq
John Newton and his memorial plaque at St. Mary’s

Business for Ministry in Romania

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

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Begun 15 years ago by a restless entrepreneur and his family, the Little Texas complex in Iasi, Romania is an amazing example of what business for ministry is all about.

Now a 125 seat Tex-Mex restaurant with accompanying four star hotel and business center, in 2007 this thriving complex will provide several hundred thousand dollars from its profits for ministry throughout Romania. Funds from Little Texas go toward support of Romanian families serving as missionaries, church plants, and a nascent church planting training center in Moldova. In Romania, it provides local, indigenously generated funding for a church planting movement, sports ministry, theological education by extension, work among teen-age orphans, a medical clinic, a dental clinic, several effective ministries among the abject poor, one of the largest and most respected Christian 1-12 schools in the nation, and an array of evangelistic and discipleship initiatives led by Romanian nationals.

The array and diversity of creative, effective ministry that swirls around Little Texas is dizzying and a little hard to get one’s arms around. Besides the direct support for this broad array of kingdom work, the presence of such a business enterprise that is done with excellence and without corruption produces huge amounts of social equity and helps redefine what it means to be authentically “Christian” in this setting.

What God has led Jeri and Gloria Little to accomplish through Little Texas is nothing short of remarkable. Hopefully, the full story will be available in book form this coming year.

We’re under no illusion that Garth Brooks on the CD and the life-size poster of John Wayne that adorns the wall are not necessarily replicable around the world. But the function that Little Texas represents has profound implications for missions and how such ministry efforts are supported in the decades ahead.

InnerCHANGE Romania

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Innerchange Romania-1
The focus of CRM’s InnerCHANGE team in Romania is Steps of Hope, a well-designed and led ministry to the younger generation which is making a substantive difference in breaking the crippling cycle of poverty among the poor.

Diane Moss leads this team and brings some great experience to bear after her eight years of work in Cambodia.

I’ve traveled throughout Romania since 1984 and have seen great changes throughout this land during these years. But despite now being part of the EU and other cosmetic advances, the vast majority of the population remains locked in the grip of poverty and hopelessness. These InnerCHANGE staff sow seeds that in years to come have the potential to be like the mustard seeds in the parables of Jesus. While almost unrecognizable to begin with, these seeds can eventually grow into something that will bring radical kingdom transformation to those at the bottom of a society in great need.

Moldova

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

Dan Onu Moldova-1

Now the poorest nation in Europe, Moldova is struggling to overcome its communist past. However, the degree of social pathology and brokenness that exists in this nation can be overwhelming.

Dan Onu, pictured here, leads a team of Romanian missionaries who are generating a movement of new churches in Moldova. He and his apostolic band of pioneers have already planted three new churches and are putting in place an innovative “school for church planters” that will work with a dozen leaders at a time who can give birth to new groups of believers throughout the country. I had a chance to see it firsthand in early November.

CRM has been honored to work alongside Dan for many years. Also, CRM’s Enterprise International businesses in Romania have been a source of local funding to support these efforts. It’s been a powerful model.

Norway

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Oslo Cathedral-1

I just returned from Norway.

90% of Norway’s 4.6 million people are registered as members of the Church of Norway (the Lutheran Church). But beyond being sacramentalized (baptized, married and buried), only around 6% actively attend the services of this “state” church.

While all the signs are there—and increasing—that the age of Christendom is over in Norway, this particular institution is proving to be quite resilient. What sets it apart from other state churches, such as the Anglicans in England, are probably two factors. First, is the small size of the country and secondly the relative homogeneous make up of the population.

Power, privilege and position are rarely relinquished without a struggle and some considerable pain. This is beginning to happen in Norway as finances and steadily declining numbers are beginning to get the attention of the ecclesiastical powers to be. Whether they can respond in time in any way that can alter what seems like the inevitable trend in Western Europe, is a long shot.

But from my superficial observation, I think there may be hope, albeit slight, that the Church of Norway, or portions of it, could be given a new lease on life and that the winds of spiritual renewal and missionality could quite possibly blow again in this body. I suspect so for two reasons:

1. At its center, there remains a core of Lutherans deeply committed to the historic confessions of the church and its mission. There appear to be some godly, thoughtful people who make up a sizeable percentage in this body. Some of the younger leadership is particularly impressive although it includes many who are justifiably skeptic that anything can be done to save this sinking ecclesiological ship. There may be some Charles Simeon’s lurking in the shadows.

2. With its posture in Norwegian society, this church may have a unique opportunity to stem its decline and missionally reinvent itself. If the will is there, the resources may still exist to pull it off. My take is they are on the precipice of the cliff and about to fall off. Whether the leadership has the guts to make such wrenching changes is up for grabs. The historic vote this week by the Church of Norway to ordain openly practicing homosexuals is not an encouraging sign.


There is a lot to admire in Lutheran theology. But there are also aspects, particularly in its polity, that are contributing to the free fall that is occurring in Norway.

What is encouraging is that God and his kingdom purposes are not bound by such institutional limitations. As he has done repeatedly throughout redemptive history, God may work through and/or bypass such moribund structures and bring new life and fresh expressions of his presence to a people in need. May it be so in the land of fjords, brown cheese, and Pinnekjøtt.

Urban Cultural Creatives

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

Germany

I recently spent several days with these skuzzy characters in Germany to get acquainted with a missional community south of Heidelberg.

What we saw and experienced is a fascinating case study of an emerging church uniquely crafted for Europe. It is led and populated by young, urban, cultural creatives.

Every generation has had men and women like this, but as Western culture staggers into the 21st century, the magnitude of this demographic is significant and growing. The future of the Christian movement in a setting such as Europe depends largely on how historic faith leans into, and is absorbed, by this cultural milieu.

  • It is all about the creative arts …music, design, graphics, film, art, dance …

  • Music particularly is the lingua franca. It is the poetry and vehicle of emotional expression that crosses culture and speaks to the heart. Luther may have changed the world because of the printing press. In our day, it’s the iPod.

  • Media reigns. Film and video are no longer elitist but accessible to all in a flat, virtual democracy which provides unbounded outlets to creativity

  • It’s a profoundly urban phenomena influenced by all the swirling complexities of “the city” in which the majority of the population in the West now live.

No generation in human history has had the leisure time or the affluence that allows for young, urban, cultural creatives to become such a sociologically dominating class. Even when such individuals were elitist and in the past lived on the margins of Western society, the effect on the culture was powerful. How much more so today when the margin is now the center and by sheer numbers dictates the direction of popular culture?

For serious followers of Jesus, the real issue has become how expressions of the imago Dei are fully integrated into the missio Dei. The future of the West hangs in the balance.

Spain

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

Spain
I just spent an intense week in Spain surveying it out as a potential site for a future CRM team.

Along with Alex Galloway (who leads CRM’s Staff Development and Care Team) and Danny Aanderud (Spanish prof at BIOLA who is checking out potential CRM ministry opportunities in Europe among other things), we spent time in Madrid and then on the southern coast near Malaga.

We had a steady stream of appointments with church and mission leaders across a broad spectrum. While our learning curve is steep and we’re just scratching the surface in getting our arms around what God is doing in the Spanish context, there were a variety of commonalities expressed throughout the conversations. Some of our initial observations include:

  • Spain is a nation rushing headlong into post-modernity and secularization.
  • This rush toward the future is a reaction, in part, to the social, political and cultural stranglehold of the Franco years and the tragedies of the 20th century such as the Spanish civil war.
  • The aversion to Catholicism is extraordinary to the extent that the Catholic Church has become irrelevant for the overwhelming majority of Spaniards.
  • Most evangelical church expressions are small, anemic, and culturally marginalized. Few would have any appeal to Spaniards under 30 years old nor do they know what to do with the emerging generation.
  • There is spiritual receptivity and vitality among the immigrant segments of the population.
  • Latin Americans are at the forefront of the most vibrant ministry initiatives in the country but are neither well-received or respected by most Spaniards.
  • Spain, but almost any criteria, could be characterized as “resistant” ground to historic, biblical Christianity. Most mission efforts either take a long time to bear any fruit or are ineffective on their face.

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.