Palm Sunday 2017 – Luke 19:41

Can Jesus have any more tears left?
He cried over Jerusalem,
Where the prophets were persecuted,
Is he still crying now?
If we get tired of the stories,
And the reports,
And the cold sets in our dry hearts,
Is he still crying?
If we can’t stand to hear any more
About the children and the bombs and the madmen,
And would rather watch the football or a thriller
Or … anything else at all.
Has he got any tears left?
And if, while we’re enjoying the Spring sunshine,
We wish there was someting we could do
To put an end to all this pain,
Apart from crying,
And think that, hell, that must surely be
in God’s power.
Can he have any tears left?

(Norwegian Version at


Deep and Wide

41Hp2TuD17L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_… healthy local churches can be, and should be, both deep and wide. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. Local churches should be characterized by deep roots and wide reaches. Churches should be theologically sound and culturally relevant. We should be bold in our proclamation and winsome in our approach. In the Gospels we find in Jesus the embodiment of both. As his body, we should be as well.
(Andy Stanley, “Deep and Wide: creating churches unchurched people love to attend”)

I am not a great fan of American mega-churches. The “corporate church” with slick marketing and a CEO for a pastor leaves me cold. And the idea that we can somehow save the church in Europe from decline by copying the Americans seems hopelessly naive – and indeed seems largely to have gone our of fashion (now we all want to be Hillsong, instead…). Andy Stanley does come from that tradition – but has a rather different and perhaps more humble take on it. He doesn’t think we should all do what he has done, in the way he has done it. He does suggest we should be asking some of the same questions he has asked. Like, for example, “Why are we doing this? Who are we doing it for? Have we got a plan?” His “Measurable ministry wins” have a lot in common with a “Balanced Scorecard” management approach – which may put some people off straight away – but in the end they just boil down to setting some concrete goals and trying to meet them. The goals are mostly simple and obvious – eg the first ministry goal for the pre-school programme: “Kids attend”. But sometimes reminding ourselves of the obvious might be a good thing. If children are not attending our children’s programmes, then they cannot succeed in any other goals (like “To make a first impression of the heavenly father”). And the same goes for adult worship. So even if the corporate strategy might seem off-putting, it does seem to have worked: Stanley claims that roughly 10 percent of his attendees are newcomers, and roughly 40 percent have not been regular attenders at any other church before they came to North Point. In other words, it seems he’s not just picking up the disaffected from other churches, but actually reaching a new audience. So he’s certainly wide. Whether North Point is also deep I cannot say. I’m not even sure how that could be measured.

Years ago, when people talked about church strategy, I used to protest that “the church is not a business”. I didn’t think we had anything to learn from management theory or any other secular strategy. I was wrong. Which is to say: I was right, the church is not a business, but a fellowship. But our fellowship still has aims and goals. And perhaps if we were a little more businesslike in assessing our activites and a little more goal-oriented in the way we plan – then we might be more effective in fulfilling our mission. At the very least – it’s a question worth asking.


Peculiar and Imperfect

Seoul Boys Home Percussion Samulnori

Seoul Boys Home Percussion Samulnori

The Salvation Army is a peculiar and imperfect organisation, consisting of many peculiar and imperfect people – like me. The peculiarities sometimes make med cringe with embarrassment, while the imperfections make me angry – until I remember that I too am imperfect and that my opinion isn’t automatically the only reasonable way to think. On occasion my frustrations have led me to wish I was working somewhere else, but when it comes to the crunch, something has always held me back from jumping ship.

This Summer I was privileged to attend the Salvation Army’s 150th Anniversary Congress in London. Certainly a show-case for the Army’s peculiarities (tambourines? in 2015?), the main sessions were a sort of cross between an Olympic opening ceremony and a revival meeting. Lots of flags, drums and razmatazz – I think somebody spent a weekend with a light and sound effects catalogue and decided to buy the lot. And the O2 arena, even if not full to the rafters, is a great place for special effects. So they put on a great show. But lots of people can put on a show. What made the Congress special was all the other stuff. The sight of 16000 people, from every continent (bar Antarctica), almost all in some variety of Salvation Army uniform, all in one place. And realising that this was just a tiny proportion of the actual number of salvationists in over 120 countries around the world. The variety of music and dance from Korea, California, Angola, Argentina, Indonesia, Sweden, Australia, India and so many more. The smile on the face of the boy from the Seoul Boys Home as he played his drum. And the stories from all over the world. Some old – like the German SS officer who became a Christian and joined the Salvation Army after hearing a group of forced labourers from France singing from a Salvation Army song book. Some more recent, like the salvationist who travelled for six days across Papua Guinea to rescue a girl, a former prostitute, who was kept tied up in a pig-pen. It turned out she had Aids, and the villagers were scared of her “demons” until the salvationist shared a cup of tea with her (really!) and persuaded them to give her proper care. Then there was the Angolan refugee who escaped a firing squad and became a Salvation Army Officer. Or the more “mundane” stories of development work (helping villagers build an irrigation system for crops in Kenya) and rehabilitation (encouraging a South-American street kid to stop stealing and finish school). And the simple things – like the fact that all the bags for the delegate packs were made by participants in the Others programme.

The simple truth is that for all its peculiarities and undeniable imperfections, the Salvation Army does do an unbelievable amount of good for and with an enormous number of people all over the world. And although my little part of that may never make a story worth telling – for once, I’m just proud to belong.

Why I am not Charlie

An intelligent and timely comment.

a paper bird

imagesThere is no “but” about what happened at Charlie Hebdo yesterday. Some people published some cartoons, and some other people killed them for it.  Words and pictures can be beautiful or vile, pleasing or enraging, inspiring or offensive; but they exist on a different plane from physical violence, whether you want to call that plane spirit or imagination or culture, and to meet them with violence is an offense against the spirit and imagination and culture that distinguish humans. Nothing mitigates this monstrosity. There will be time to analyze why the killers did it, time to parse their backgrounds, their ideologies, their beliefs, time for sociologists and psychologists to add to understanding. There will be explanations, and the explanations will be important, but explanations aren’t the same as excuses. Words don’t kill, they must not be met by killing, and they will not make the killers’ culpability go away.

To abhor what was done to the victims, though, is not…

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Defining Your Terms

I’m sure we Salvationists could add a few more … What do we mean by ‘quality’, for example?

Thinking Out Loud

When you say you’re a Bible & Science ministry, does that mean

  • you believe in a literal six-day creation and a young earth?
  • you believe in an old earth; that Genesis is allegorical, that evolution is probable
  • you focus on intelligent design and try to skip the subjects above ?

When you say you have a prophetic gift, does that mean

  • you speak forth with a prophetic voice concerning issues facing the church and/or the world in general
  • your ministry almost exclusively revolves around end-time predictions
  • you counsel people and help them find where they are to live, what should be their vocation, who they should marry, etc. ?

When you say your church is charismatic, do you mean

  • the music is loud and lively, and people clap and rejoice during worship
  • your church emphasizes belief in the limitless power of God and has an active desire for a manifestation…

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