Leadership, networking and the trajectory of pioneering groups…



I am part of a small ‘missional’ group. We had ‘emerging church‘ conversations, flirted with ‘new monasticism‘. We found the old ‘paradigms’ restrictive and so wanted to do a new thing, using new ‘alternative worship‘ styles.

There you go; I have established my credentials- the badges and trendy buzz words that have allowed me to find a groove to travel in, no matter how shallow and indistinct.

The reality is that this language has often felt contrived and pompous, and the journey of our group has been one of ordinary people trying to get along, whilst searching for a way to live out faith that has some integrity and authenticity. Groups like ours are not unusual, even if they are ephemeral, fragile.

Many small groups like ours set out with pioneering passion- they have this idea of the purity of community releasing a power in them to achieve something special. Often they are right- but very soon it will get messy. The enforced intimacy of small community will crack things open quickly- there is no place to hide at times.

Then there is the inevitable reduction in passion that comes over time; things that were exciting always feel stale with repetition. How do you refresh, revitalise and renew. How do you avoid creating a new narrow liturgy that ensnares every bit as much as the ones we gratefully left behind?

This is the trajectory of most small groups- excited start, success, stagnation, crisis, reinvention (or destruction.)

If we are to be sustainable, if we are to make the longer journeys together, then we will probably need some help in the form of some external connections- we will need to speak to people who understand, who have made some of the same mistakes and dreamed the same dreams. Sometimes we may need others to listen to our pain or laugh with our small absurdity.

Groups like ours are inoculated against organised booted-and-suited religion for the most part. However I remember some interesting research from my old group work days within social work.  I nforget the references (I will try to add them later) but it goes something like this;

The success of a group depends to a large extent on the external context it is embedded within. An example of this might be an encounter group within a hospital or a prison. If the group lacks the support of the establishment this might be a plus at first- people feel embattled and react against their context – but it is simply less likely to be successful in the longer term. However, a little external validation seems to go a long way. So if the staff in the wider hospital speak positively of the group, see it as valuable and helpful, the group absorbs it all, and thrives.

Of course, the links to groups like ours is rather tenuous, but it is no surprise to me that many of the pioneers of missional groups that I know arrived at their adventure after many years of established churching. Despite their maturity, experience and a degree of reaction-formation against the context they escaped from, many of them still look back. Some return.

And this is no bad thing.

In Englandshire, there are good supportive links now for ephemeral groups- there is a wider recognition of the value of micro church through movements like CMS and Fresh Expressions. This is much less the case north of the Border in Scotland.

Last night (and this morning) I had a long discussion with David from Garioch Church, around this kind of stuff. We talked about the possibility of a new kind of network- an old theme for me. 5 years ago we tried to start such a network (see here and here for example) but things did not work out for various reasons.

So here is a question to people north of the border who find themselves on the ragged edge of organised church- where do you find your connections, and is it time to try this networking thing again?

The blessings of place…


I write this sat in the Garden on a delightfully warm evening.

Michaela is in the living room running a craft course with a group of people.

Will has gone for a walk along the sea front with a couple of pals- heading for the shop and an associated sugar rush. Emily is on her way back home from Glasgow after submitting her higher photography portfolio.

Staying in our annex is Sam, along with Becky and his three lovely kids. We spent an hour sitting in the sun with them watching them play with Emily’s old dolls house.

I am waiting for another friend, David, who is staying here overnight on his way back up north. We will no doubt share a dram and lots of good conversation.

Most of which is made possible by the place that we live.

I often feel guilt about our house. It is fairly big (even if definitely not posh) with fantastic views over the sea. In these days of house-idol-worship it might be considered to be in the upper pantheon. The fact is that we bought it reluctantly when it was in a terrible mess and spent 10 years patching it all back together on a shoe string, but despite this it is still grand enough to often make me wonder about our use of the earths resources.

But without the house, many good things might not happen- in our lives, and hopefully in the lives of many others.

This is no excuse- places have the power to sustain, to enrich, to revive. I pray that this may always be true of our house.

Kick start some creativity…


My mate Andy Prosser has spent years writing songs, playing music and home recording. He has finally decided to put together an album in a professional studio!

He is funding this through Kick Starter, a crowd funding website. Check it out here – you can listen to some of the demos of his music too.

More importantly, you can donate to the project, pass the link on to others, blog it, Facebook it, twitter it etc etc.

Go on, he is worth it. Andy is a talented bloke who has put in the hard miles as both a musician and a man to allow these songs to be formed in him. We need people of creativity like Andy more now than ever.

Scooping them up for the Kingdom…


Lovely chat tonight out at our pub discussion thingy- talking about the Kingdom of God.

It is an old discussion for many of us, but we were chewing again on all those mysterious stories that Jesus told us- those The Kingdom of God is like… stories. Mustard seeds, fields of weedy wheat, women making bread with yeast, corn falling on random ground etc. It is all rather mixed up and mysterious, particularly as the stories from Matthew’s gospel tend to have the odd bit of smiting and burning in torment, all of which does not fit with fluffy-Jesus very well.

We talked too about our understanding of The Gospel- which for most of us used to be the saving sinners from hell when they die thing, and how this version of the Gospel comes mostly from a reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans backwardly applied to the rest of the Bible, when actually the Gospel that Jesus talked about was this one;

Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

(Or perhaps)

Its time to turn things around, shake things up, take a long hard look at yourself, because there is a deeper, more beautiful way of living that has come to you- the insurgency of God…

Our discussion then turned to what living as an agent/citizen/participant in this Kingdom/Revolutionary movement/Insurgency might mean.

The old understanding of the Gospel made it all simple- saving the lost so that they might go to heaven. Our primary purpose is evangelism. All other tasks are distractions from the Gospel. I find this narrative very difficult on all sorts of levels now, but the mission of the Kingdom is far more challenging, vitalising, engaging- we leave behind the hard in-out legalism and instead have to practice the disciplines of love (Romans 13:10)

This might in the face of it seem rather woolly and directionless, like encouraging one another to go out and be nice. However love is not just a passive thing- it demands action, particularly in the face of desperate need and danger to those who might be regarded as the recipients of our love.

I began to wonder about the old call to ‘save the lost’, usually applied to those who are not like us, so therefore were in danger of roasting in hell.

My friend Pauling put it rather neatly- Love might involve “Scooping a few people up” she said. Some people need scooped. And we might need to do a bit of scoopage.

We laughed- but despite all those old dangers of paternalism/maternalism, sometimes scooping people up- lifting them, holding them, is just what we need to do. The lost and the least, the broken people, the awkward, the lame, the lonely.

We used to call this Salvation, evidenced by conversion. For some this leads to amazing transformation- there is nothing woolly about this kind of love, or this kind of insurgency.

Is it time to reclaim the language of salvation for the Kingdom of God?

We can call it Scoopage if you like.

How to deal with extremists…


Invite them in for a cup of tea of course.

There are scary things happening at the moment- in the wake of the brutal murder of a young man on the streets of Woolwich  in broad daylight, something is being unleashed.

In many ways it feels like the time is right for scapegoats. They are always a useful release or distraction at times of economic trouble. The 1926 great depression led to the great purges in Europe of the Jews. In more recent times Thatcher had a series of social groups to blame- the miners, New Age Travelers, benefits scroungers,

Currently there is a real danger that the next scapegoats will be Muslim.

Politicians start to talk about dealing with radical preachers. Fear is stoked. ‘The other’ is cartoonised and selectively described. The nuances, the complexity of it all is stripped away- there are the good guys (us) and them; the evil, half human terrorists who want to kill us all whilst shouting Allahu Akbar.

How do you deal with extremism? Surely the first thing we have to do is to set aside the dehumanising stereotype and talk. Meet real people and hear stories. Listen to each others world view and seek understanding.

I read a great example of exactly that today; The English Defence League  organised one of their protests outside a Mosque in York. The EDL is a scary far right organisation, with roots in the old British National Party and football hooliganism.  These are not people who like to talk- they would rather throw insults and broken bottles. The people in the Mosque had every reason to feel afraid. However, according to the Guardian, this is what happened;

York mosque dealt with a potentially volatile situation after reports that it was going to be the focus of a demonstration organised by a far-right street protest movement – by inviting those taking part in the protest in for tea and biscuits.

Around half a dozen people arrived for the protest, promoted online by supporters of the EDL. A St George’s flag was nailed to the wooden fence in front of the mosque.

However, after members of the group accepted an invitation into the mosque, tensions were rapidly defused over tea and plates of custard creams, followed by an impromptu game of football.

A young member of York mosque displays his message.

A young member of York mosque displays his message. Photograph: Anne Czernik

Leanne Staven, who had come for the protest, said that she had not come to the mosque to cause trouble but because “We need a voice”. “I think white British who have any concerns feel we can’t speak freely,” she said.

“Change has been coming for a long time and in light of what happened to that soldier in Woolwich there have to be restrictions on people learning extremist behaviour and it has to stop.”

Mohammed el-Gomati, a lecturer at the University of York, said: “There is the possibility of having dialogue. Even the EDL who were having a shouting match started talking and we found out that we share and are prepared to agree that violent extremism is wrong.

“We have to start there. Who knows, perhaps the EDL will invite us to an event and the Muslim community will be generous in accepting that invitation?”

Ismail Miah, president of York mosque, added: “Under the banner of Islamthere are very different politics: democratic politics, the far right, left, central, all over. You can’t target a whole community for what one or two people have done.

“What they’ve done in London is for their own reasons but there’s no reasoning behind it from an Islamic point of view.”


Light obscured

Not in the ‘other worldly’ sense, the God who is removed and distant. For me, Transcendence means something hyper-real, something that saturates the ordinary, but which somehow connects us with the divine.

in a previous post I tried to define it like this;

… I mean the experience of God in the ordinary. The incarnation of the maker of the universe within the temporal, messy world in which we live and love.

Transcendent moments fill our lives if we look for them. And the more we attune ourselves to the looking the more we see.

They are everywhere in the natural world; sunsets, new leaves, mushrooms in caves, the lick of new born fur, the light of the moon on still water, the smell of rain on dry earth, the sea that goes on for ever. All these things will happen whether or not we are there as witnesses. But when we look in a certain kind of way a hollow space opens up in the middle of them into which we can meet with something transcendent. Into which we can invite/be invited by the living God.

They are everywhere too where humans also are. In conversations, in touch, in the longing for justice, in the decision to forgive, in the deciding to repay hurt with love, in the listening and in the laughing. Because God is a God of communion. God commands love, and love requires direction. Perhaps above all, the transcendent God is immanent when we come together in community.

They are encountered in art, because art can become a bridge to something beyond our business. Films, books, poems, paintings, sculptures, music.

They can even be encountered in church – for me, especially when we sing, when the chordal voices find the vault of the building and make it vibrate.

I have been thinking about what all this might mean to us again, and wrote this;




In the corner of my gaze something moved

I blinked

Reminded of almost imperceptible stars

Sky all black like bruises

Pricked with harsher things


Did I form you out of some ancient river bed?

Did I raise you up on poles?

Are you just déjà vu

For the deluded last few

Will science yet prove us all fools?


Then the night whispers

Like an unknown breath on puckered skin

Like the scent of sea to a sailor

Like a poem whose words are not yet spoken

Like an unpainted painting

Or a song still yet to be sung

Like a reed still yet to be fluted

Or a string that was never strung

Like the silence when echoes have faded

Like an unpregnant womb

Still waiting

How they lived…


It is an old theme- what makes for a good life? What motivates, inspires? For where your treasure is- there is your heart also (Matt 6:21.)

Over the last few days a series of cruise liners have been into the Ocean Terminal in Greenock. I am never sure why they come in here- presumably to pick up fuel, stores and possibly passengers. Last week the Queen Mary came along the Clyde– the fastest and most luxurious liner on the planet.

Greenock- a town splintered by the effect of economic change- the death of industry, the end of empire, famous now for broken people who use drugs and alcohol to make sense of life.

What do the tourists think of us all? There seems to be no shortage of people willing to pay large sums of money to make their fake voyages with everything thrown in. Voyages that are not journeys, but capsules of disconnection that arrive nowhere.

But I should not cast stones- I live in a glass house after all.

Changes are afoot. Politically, economically, environmentally. History tells us that at times of economic downturn some people prosper. They take cruises. Other people are broken. They become the scapegoats.

History also warns us of the rise of hate politics – the lurch to the right, and the polarising embattlement of the left. In England we already see the rise of the UK Independence Party– whose politics seem to have been created by a tabloid reading taxi driver. It is all the fault of the immigrants, the benefits scroungers, the gay marriages- and those bloody Europeans of course.

Except it is not. It is all our fault- and what we (and our children) become will be determined by the choices we make. Do we scrabble for the kind of me-first security of the rich on a sinking ship?

Or do we really seek to live differently? This is really nothing to do with whether we take cruises or not, but rather whether the journeys we make are more than just empty circles back to ourselves.

I pray for journeys that seek connection, openness, understanding. Journeys that are not about me as much as they are about you. Journeys that are not celebrations of what I have, what I can afford, but rather become something called pilgrimage.

And lest I continue to sound too earnest, too smug- we all have the same challenges. Stuff always gets in the way…



Aoradh profiles




There is no muscle wasted

In your wrinkled face

No line uncurled


There is no shadow cast by

Tomorrows waiting growth

Each hair a whisker, quivered


No sharp fang

In your pearly-whites

Lit up by our laughter


There is no moment

More than this

When here we are, smiling





Aoradh Pentecost bonfire, 2013…

Jar of peace

We have just spent a lovely afternoon at our annual Pentecost Bonfire out at Ardentinny beach.

Every year we gather to mark the birthday of church, sharing food then some worship. Today Michaela and Pauline had planned a series of activities around the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.) The Spirit sent as our helper, our guide- a kind of warmth in the middle of us…

For Love, we used footprints, signifying a step towards the other

For Joy, we used a canvas splashed with exuberant colours

For Peace, we sat in silence listening to the gentle waves, then opened a jar to scoop it all in, and put the lid on

For Patience, we found ourselves a stick to signify sticking with someone or something

For Kindness, we took a smoothed pebble to signify being smoothed and shaped by one another

For Goodness, we passed round a bag of tasks- things that would help us see the good in others

For Faithfulness, we remembered that we had long term committments to one another, and so we wrote on our pebbles the words from Ruth- “Your God is my God”, and passed the pebbles to another

For Gentleness, we reminded ourselves that we did not need to force our way in life, and spent 5 mins walking alone

For Self control, we reminded ourselves that we needed to direct our energies wisely, and so we wrote on ribb0ns, which we intended to fly from the tail of a kite, but the wind was light so, we just decided to take them home.

It was lovely.

We do not usually use music outdoors – there is so much music in the waves after all – but this time Michaela used her little Mp3 dock to play songs- and the simplicity of music, companionship, the beach and an open fire (even with fickle eye stinging smoke) made for a time of deep peace.

All church services should be like this…


'Church@ gathers

Andrew upside down