The ‘Shaping Of Things To Come’ event, reflections 2…


Here is the word of the moment (from Michael Frost);


…defined as the burial practice of removing the flesh and organs of the dead, leaving only the bones. More of this later.

Frost gave a whistle stop tour around what he saw as cultural trends. He suggested that he was less concerned about the process of getting people back to Church, and more about the irrelevance of church within our cultural context; in particular, the fact that we have failed to pose the right questions, or to articulate alternatives.

He used the following analogies;

The Gate Lounge (Airport waiting room)

(An idea pinched from Martin Baumann.) The suggestion is that increasingly we engage with our world as tourists, in a place of constant transition. We live in, and create, sterile artificial environments that we pass through quickly, always on the way to the next non-real, commercially curated experience. This leads to a kind of life where we skim over the surface, living a commodified experience that lacks satisfaction.

It also leads to a disconnection from place, community, belonging.  Frost mentioned the film ‘Up in the air’, which I reviewed previously on this blog here.

Screen culture

We are increasingly a culture whose head is down- always looking at our tiny screens. Life is lived in the abstract, and we develop two selves- a screen self, and a real self.

Frost mentioned the novel ‘The Lost Memory Of Skin’, about a man who is addicted to internet pornography, but has never had real sex.


Here the church may have contributed to its own disconnection, as we have presented a polarised perspective on everything- heaven/hell,  earth/heaven, world/church, flesh/spirit. Jesus is presented as living in the soul and waiting in heaven, not incarnate- flesh blood and spit here, right now.

Likewise church has followed the same disembodification as the rest of our culture- we learn through sermon podcasts rather than the process of experiencing and testing truth in community. We create individual worship experiences in auditoriums with a stage at the front and us, eyes closed, seperated from those around us.

Back to the word, ‘excarnate’. We human beings are made to experience the infinite depth of what we inhabit. We are tingling flesh on tingling flesh. Strip away these parts of what we are, and all we become are dry bones.

Frost described a communion service he once attended- a large empty church with the floor covered in black plastic. In the middle of the room was a mountain of stinking, oozing, rotten rubbish- the human kind- every kind of filth. The putrid juices ran out in rivers into the room and the communicants struggled to stand clear, and to cope with the smell.

Then two people in swimming costume entered the room, and walked towards the filth. They waded in, first ankle deep, then up to their waists. From there they led a service of communion.

The imagery is astringent. We follow Jesus- God-who-took-on-flesh, whilst at the same time living a world that increasingly avoids touch.

I am not sure whether you find this analysis of current cultural trends to be exaggerated? Frost is of course an agitator, but I there is something in what he describes that make me sit up and pay attention. Whilst engaging with our culture, seeking to understand and participate within it, we also have a duty to understand the Zeitgeist, and where necessary, to oppose- and perhaps most importantly (in the way of Jesus) to oppose by example.

Frost described how his community (Small boat, big sea) are seeking to do things differently. They have agreed to apply this method, and to hold each other accountable for it. Each week they will;

Bless three people- with words, gift, favour

Eat with three people- sharing their table as an image of Kingdom

Listen deliberately

Learn from the life of Jesus

‘Sent’ consider life as a mission

In this way, we might not exist only in our ‘head’ (excarnate) but encounter God in practice- in the mess of real flesh.

The ‘Shaping of Things to Come’ event, reflections 1…



I attended this event yesterday, and will post a couple of reflections on things that were said.

I was slightly reluctant to go- partly because I was not sure just how much a couple of blokes from Australia and South Africa could really tell me about future development for church in Scotland. In this, I think I was partially right- both Frost and Hirsch spoke very well about their developed passions- each linked in with piles of books available at the back of the room, which is fair enough I suppose- both have a living to make. However, the groove that the books gave to the themes were general, not specifically tartan.

There was a considerable contrast in the styles of the two men. Hirsch was more technical, more given to making categorical statements gleaned from Scriptural interpretation. I confess to finding this a little alienating. Frost was passionate, inspirational and well practised with each story and each illustration.

It has been a while since I was in the presence of so many professional Christians. I would reckon that 90% of the people there (around 100-150) were in some form of ministry. The impact of days like this on the shape of the Church in Scotland has the potential to be significant then. I think that most of us who attend events like this are already quite well versed in the nuts and bolts of the arguments. We have read (at least some of) the books, and have had an eye constantly on the state of the Church for years. What we tend to do then is to take away a few nuggets of issues to chew on further. These will of course be different, but here is the first of mine;

Hirsch began the day by talking about the ‘Five Fold Ministries’ from Ephesians 4;

10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature,attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Hirsch’s contention was that Churches could not grow without a recognition of the importance of each one of the ministries of church- what he called APEST- Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers. He suggested that many of these roles have been scandalously neglected by institutional church, and that because Ephesians 4 is foundational we do this at our peril.

He also said that although this is not a ‘silver bullet’ to deal with the monster of secularism and church decline, it is a ‘sliver telescope’. Without these things, we can achieve neither unity nor maturity.

My perspective skews my response to this kind of analysis. I am much more interested in church-at-the-edge, church-in-the-gutter, church-around-the-dining-table. These kinds of churches are very resistant to grand labels. Neither am I sure that Paul’s list is either foundational or fully inclusive of all the leadership roles that Church (with a big C) requires.

To be fair, Hirsch did point out that Ephesians was a letter sent not to a church in strife, or in need of outside correction, but rather to a collection of small house groups, full of very ordinary people. We are not talking Megachurch here, where individuals are raised up high on some kind of spiritualised stage. This might suggest that people who contain within them the different gifts are fully formed mature versions of the same- more that this is their starting point towards any goal.

This is where I think that the analysis has some use. We have become very used to all those personality tests, seeking to codify and categorise our humanity- often to understand better how we fit together, how we approach different issues in different ways.  So it may be with these ‘five fold’ ministries- each one looks at the Gospel from a different perspective- each one is a different mode of awareness, or form of intelligence. Here is a little more on how this might work for each one (with some of my own thoughts about the perspectives they bring);

Apostles are people who feel the ‘sentness’ of church. They keep the movement intact, guard and maintain its integrity, see the big picture.

They have to deal with personal issues and structural issues about the use and misuse of power.


Prophets are people who are highly sensitive to the spiritual depth of a situation. They listen to the voice of God. They often might use art or writing as a means to display and engage with these issues. Hirsch used the phrase ‘Canaries in the mine’- the first to sense problems, the first to notice the change of atmosphere.

They can also be difficult, awkward individuals who upset others around them.


Evangelists are recruiters to the cause- gifted communicators and networkers. Without them a movement can not grow.

They can also be driven by the buzz of the sale room, and the conquest of another closed deal.


Shepherds are people driven to heal, to care for, to nurture and to protect. They feel the needs of others around them deeply. They keep the peace.

They can also become worn down by the brokenness of other, and tend to lose the big picture because of the intensity of the small ones.

Hirsch suggested that the church has overemphasised this ministry- all those ‘pastoral’ positions in church, and points out that the Greek word associated with this gift is only very rarely (one or two) times used in the NT.


Teachers connect the dots, help others understand detail.

Most of the time this word is used in the NT refers to ‘false teachers’- pointing to the danger of what happens when ideologues get hold of the gospel and use it as a web to make their own power.


The interest for me in all this is two fold. Firstly I will talk to my friends about how this might relate to the skills gifts and characters that we have. It might be a useful way to recognise and uphold/encourage individuals.

Secondly,  it might be a useful tool of analysis- to take a look at our activities through different sets of lens.