In Praise Of Slow

I saw this story and thought it was a wonderful illustration: Brian Cox, from New Zealand, spent four years growing a church from trees! Our current building project may take this long…but I don’t think it will look quite as pretty. Although we do have many, many trees in Bracknell…

tree-church-nature-installation-barry-cox-new-zealand-12

Man spends 4 years growing church from trees

In our always on, ever connected, 24 hour cycle we are encouraged, pushed and cajoled into getting everything done yesterday. Microwave meals, digital photos, Skype, touch payments…so much around us is designed for speed and practicality, to fit in with our evermore busy lives. Why queue at the shops when you can get it delivered, or if you do venture into a store, don’t waste time counting cash, signing the receipt or even punching in your pin code when all you have to do is touch your card on the machine! There used to be a day (which I sorely miss) when you would spend a Saturday afternoon browsing a record store or an evening deciding what video to rent in Blockbuster….now I can browse, download and stream what I want when I want through Netflix and Apple Music.

We can be like this in church, with our strategies designed to speed up growth, programmes to move our attenders and congregants from A to B in the quickest and easiest time possible…often so we don’t overburden people with more things in their already busy schedule. Rehearsals are rushed in order to get through the set, planning is curtailed, and we can fall into the trap of examining our performance at regular intervals: have we grown the team, have we achieved our objectives, will it be complete before the year/month/week is out? Not to say strategy, objectives and growth is a bad thing of course. But the path along the way, and the time spent doing it can make a huge difference.

Slow Growth = Strength

I read a story about Alfred Russell Wallace this week, a naturalist who was around at the same time as Charles Darwin. He was observing some moths emerging from their cocoons, and thought he would help one creature who seemed to be particularly struggling to hatch. So he made a small incision in the cocoon to enable the moth to stretch it’s wings and emerge more quickly. He soon realised this was a mistake…sure enough, the moth did hatch quicker, but because of Alfred’s help, its wings hadn’t developed or gained their full strength by the normal process of straining and stretching. So the moth was fully emerged, but it had less colour, strength or vitality compared to the other moths. Over the course of its brief life it flew poorly, fed inefficiently and ultimately died long before it should have.

Moses

Moses was a pivotal character in the bible, but by the time God called Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt he was already an old man. He had been a fugitive guilty of murder, a refugee without a land or a people to call his own and a shepherd in one of the most desolate places on earth. He was not a young leader, he was not working out shortcuts and ways of achieving actions via the quickest possible route. He had lived, learnt, experienced and submitted, ultimately ready to lead God’s people after a long period of developing for this moment.

I’ve written before about the song I am Found In You by Steven Curtis Chapman…which has one of my favourite lines:

I may not see, in front of me

But I can see for miles when I look over my shoulder

I’ve been at EBC for around 14 years now, and I’m always striving to make things better, grow the teams, increase the congregations, be more effective with our messages on a Sunday service and keep abreast of all which is new in culture…and do it all yesterday! But if I stop and look back to where we were a year ago….five years ago….ten years ago…it is incredible how far we’ve come. And of course, because we’ve spent the last 14 years doing this gradually, the foundations we’ve laid, the relationships we’ve built and the experiences we’ve shared have made us incredibly strong and together as a team, a church and a community. My closest relationships have been built over time, my marriage being a particularly strong example. I’ve started a new business this year, but it is based on almost 20 years of experience and relationships which I can now call upon as there is a strength there.

In Praise Of Slow

A moth which hatches too quickly will be weakened. A building with rushed foundations will have no strength. Battery farmed chickens and hydroponically grown tomatoes may be quicker and more efficient, but the speed will directly affect the flavour of slow growth. Relationships, no matter how friendly and approachable you are, can only be grown over time together…there are no shortcuts.

So next time you’re trying to do 15 things at once, your drummer’s dropped out of Sunday and dinner is boiling over….try to take a step back, take stock, look at where you’ve come from and be in praise of slow. Easier said than done, but still possible…

And thanks to Skye Jethani and Simon Guillebaud for the daily inspirations which contributed to today’s blog…I read Choose Life daily and also get Skye’s Daily Devotional to my inbox every day. Both hugely recommended.

How We See

Inside Out is currently doing fantastic business in America, released to overwhelming critical acclaim, everyone is flocking to the cinema. I know we can’t wait to see it as a family (unfortunately it’s not out until the end of July in the UK….just in time for the school summer holidays…)

Inside Out is set inside the mind of Riley, where her five emotions: Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness, try to lead her through life as she moves with her family to a new city. Pete Docter, the director, first began developing Inside Out in 2009 after noticing changes in his daughter’s personality as she grew older. The film’s producers consulted many psychologists and researched the mind in preparation for building its story. Initial drafts were unsatisfactory, and the production was revised significantly with the realization that interpersonal relationships guide human emotions.

Winning With People

We are just about to start a new series at EBC called Winning With People, based on the book by John Maxwell, and the first part is titled How We See. And if its not obvious by now…this Inside Out clip is going to be used to open the service. The story we’re using is from Luke 7: 36-50, where Jesus is anointed by a sinful woman while at Simon’s house. Simon is self righteous and believes he is better than everybody else…and so does not see Jesus for who he is, nor the woman for who she is. Whereas the woman knows herself, and so sees Jesus for who he really is.

Who we are affects how we see other people. Who we are affects our relationships with other people. Just as illustrated in the Inside Out clip, our emotions and the thoughts in our head can often dictate how we relate to one another. It can be as simple as if we’re angry or happy, tearful or sensitive, we can either rub others up the wrong way or misinterpret how others are acting towards us. I know I’ve been guilty of that (although not very often as I’m usually so perfect and fun)….

But at a deeper level we can all have ingrained opinions and almost subconscious reactions whether these are genetic, from our background, from other influences or experiences. It could be argued that certain press and media outlets thrive on these negative preconceptions…we seem to be in the thick of a raft of headlines about “benefits scroungers”, “work-shy”, “immigrants” and “celebs”…and we get hardened to the images and articles we read when often the real stories are somewhat different.

The Lens Principle

John Maxwell better defines this as The Lens Principle (again from his book Winning With People), which he defines as:

Who we are determines how we see others.

The big question is:
What is my perception of others?

This means:

  1. Who you are determines what you see.
  2. Who you are determines how you see others.
  3. Who you are determines how you view life.
  4. Who you are determines what you do.

At its simplest we could define this as stereotyping: all artists are flighty, all singers are divas, drummers hang around with musicians, all programmers are dorks etc… But how we’ve been brought up, who our friends were (or still are), parent’s opinions, the press we read and much much more will have an affect on how we view the world, and how we see people.

W.W.J.S.

163-1468Now I don’t think it’s my place to say what you should or should not be reading or listening to; my point of view, my background, my family situation, the newspapers I read and the TV I watch is possibly the same or maybe completely different to yours. But I’ll leave you with this:

There was a craze in the late 90’s for wearing WWJD bracelets, which, if you were around in the 90’s you’ll know stood for What Would Jesus Do? So maybe a subtle change to this, as we think about How We See people would be to have a bracelet with WWJS on it: What Would Jesus See?

Community wasn’t built in a day

There are countless books, videos, courses and step by step guides out there on community. It’s one of the things which most churches aspire to, and arguably one of the ingredients of a happy and rounded life.Tents

But it seems in our busy, 21st century culture, community is becoming more and more relegated to being online when we can fit it in and contain it. For instance, I have 422 friends on Facebook, of which probably 22 I see regularly. I am connected on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest (yes, I am a man with a Pinterest account). I probably still have a MySpace profile somewhere, I’ve dabbled in FourSquare and I set up a TuneTeams account recently. And that doesn’t include old school emails and texts. So I am incredibly overconnected in my digital realm.

But the reality is, most evenings (when I don’t have rehearsals, meetings or are carrying out “dad taxi” duties, I am at home…with my family, enjoying catching up on the events of the day and unwinding from a days work. Which is not a bad thing. But it’s not community.

Face Time?

I was in London today for a meeting about a couple of upcoming audits which I am doing. Now I could have emailed it in, we could have exchanged data, maybe even Skyped if it came to it. It would have saved me the commute, and the train fare. But putting in the “face time” as we call it develops my relationship further with the client, it shows I want to make the effort, and we talk far more about work and not about work than we would have done in a brief email or a focused phone conversation. It takes time and effort, but it builds community.

This coming weekend we are having our church weekend, something we try to do every year. This year we have taken the step to share it with another church in our area, FBC. We’re camping at Wellington Country Park, we’ve hired in huge marquees, generators, toilets and showers for the 200 or more who will be sharing the weekend. It’s almost a mini festival! We are running events on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we have a visiting speaker, children’s and youth work. There are leisure activities being planned, movies, a very silly quiz night and much much more (did I mention the buffet, hog roast and barbecue?). We’ve been planning it for probably the best part of a year, it’s taken a huge amount of planning and logistics, and I will be on site from Thursday to Monday, when the inevitable big clear up has to happen. And I don’t even want to thing about Tuesday evening yet (when I’m going to have to reinstall our sound and lights ready for next Sunday).

Is it worth the effort?

It’s taken a massive amount of effort to put on; time, money and heavy lifting! But we will have a whole weekend together without the distractions of work, TV, cooking and general day to day. We can do what we do on a Sunday without the need to rush onto the next service, or to get home to put on lunch. There is a program so there are things to occupy us through the days, but there will also be plenty of time to be together, to share, to chat, to eat, to just be. And although I know it’s going to be a great weekend with fantastic content, the opportunity to spend time with friends, make new ones, and just grow our community together is going to be the most important part of the whole weekend.

The only way to build community is to be one. The only way to cultivate relationships is to invest in them. Which takes time, lots of time, spent together. So instead of reading the books, working through the programs or “liking” your friend’s status, why don’t you spend some time, quality time with your community this weekend.

I’ll be posting about this next week, as I’m probably going to be off grid, in a field, with deer for the next 5 days!

5 Observations from Joint Church Services

We have just this weekend had a great joint service with our friends at FBC. This is the second event we have done together, and it was great! So I though it would be a great opportunity to look at how we worked together, and maybe some pointers for other congregations who are dipping their toes into churches together or joint events. I have used the acronym of the 5 C’s…just because it panned out that way….

Common Ground

Together!

We are similar churches in terms of ethos, locality and congregation, which naturally draws us together. When planning for this joint service, we looked at the things we had, and did, in common and aimed to meet in the middle as far as possible. As I’ve discussed before, all churches and church services have a template whether they realise it or not. Our services are not very far apart in terms of order and content, so we had a straightforward starting place. Rachael and I were leading the music together (as we had before last summer), so we compared song lists and picked out those songs common to us both, as well as a couple which were new or we were wanting to introduce to the congregations.

Communication

This is crucial in all aspects, as we are two different churches in two different locations planning other services and events as well as running the day to day. So regular emails and planned meetings were the order of the day, and we had been planning for this one joint service from about November, having earlier penciled in the date we would be holding it. We put point leaders in place, so we would know well in advance who would be responsible for the main aspects of the service.

Community

This was and is all about coming together; we may be two different churches in different locations, but having a joint service is all about sharing what we do together, growing our congregations and learning together. Over the course of our joint events so far I have made many new friends and experienced different ways of working, worshiping and communicating together. We also planned to have a big lunch after the service that all were invited to (and expected to) attend. Community is also a long term relationship, which leads us into…

Commitment

We have held two joint events so far, a great summer celebration followed by a barbecue, and this service where the weather wasn’t quite warm enough for barbecues but we did get to play outside once we’d eaten together. And we are now gearing up to a joint weekend away in May with combined music teams, leaders and congregations. We are committed to doing this together, and I hope we will continue to meet regularly and have big shared events (and smaller joint gatherings) in the future, as they work so well; they encourage, uplift, and share our numerous resources.

Celebration

After all of the hard work, planning and execution, it’s great to kick back over food and drink and just enjoy how well it worked. Job well done! We will have a debrief, review what worked well, what needed tweaking, and what we do next. And, to just celebrate a job done well!

Have you had any experience of joint church events?

Conflict

Whenever I think of conflict, I generally go back to that amazing Monty Python sketch, “Argument Clinic” where Michael Palin (in a fabulous 70’s outfit) walks into a room and asks “Is this the room for an argument”, and John Cleese replies “Well I’ve already told you once…” But, as discussed in my past posts, we’re always trying to be more culturally relevant to our congregation and our peers, so here’s a clip from Friends instead…

In the clip from Friends, Joey has moved out of Chandler’s apartment, so Chandler has got a new roommate. This has caused obvious tension, as they have such a long history together and at the end of the day, are missing each other’s company terribly. But is something that neither of them want to tackle. The empty juice carton is the catalyst for their angst, but still neither one is willing to take the matter head on…digressing from juice to eggs, from eggs to chickens.

Heat rising

Don’t you find it’s often that way, the smallest thing can trigger long supressed anger and feelings, often leaving the other party confused and wondering where it came from? And of course it makes no sense…because usually the trigger is nothing to do with what caused the conflict in the first place! As they say, never go to bed on an argument…or even better, don’t have an argument in the first place.

I know of many friends that just shy away from conflict. At the first sign of any sort of argument flaring up, or even the slightest disagreement, they will back off, shy away or compromise, just to deflect from any potential conflict. And at the same time I know (fortunately far fewer) people that just seem incredibly able of inciting conflict at a moments notice, in fact they almost go out of their way to be disagreeable and will not back down, no matter what the cost.

Is it just me?

I think most of us can identify with either personality, and it seems to me that there are a very few that tread the middle ground, not wanting to cause an argument, but at the same time standing up for their principles and returning a balance, healthy and wise argument. The longer that things remain unsaid, the more they fester, until when it finally bubbles to the surface it erupts, literally blowing out of proportion whatever the issue was in the first place. Now I’m no counsellor, and don’t want to offer relationship advice or the like…but I know that Mrs K and I generally talk over most stuff…no matter how awkward. And there are some topics that will always cause more “discussion” than others…money for example. But we still have the conversation, and have it early before it grows into something bigger than it was.

Being open, honest and up front is a great way of avoiding conflict, and at the same time putting your hands up and saying “sorry, I was wrong” is also a great sentence to diffuse a situation. Neither response may solve the issues, but they will allow you to move on with the conversation without resorting to an argument.

And now, for something completely different…

For those of a certain age, and as a half term treat….here’s the Monty Python sketch in full… Now I’ve told you once….

Legacy part 2

Friday has come around again, and I look back on another nice summer holiday week which has included (between work) a trip to the Tower of London with the family, food with friends and time out watching Castle with my beloved once the kids have gone to bed. All things which I will look back on with fond memories. Earlier this week I shared the great song Something Worth Leaving Behind by Lee Ann Womack, and looked at the legacies which we all leave. I thought as rather wonderful way to wrap up Legacy Week, I’d share this clip, Yes to Love:

You may recognise the couple: Isaac and Amy shared the most amazing Lip Sync Proposal on YouTube back in 2012, something we at EBC used as part of a marriage series we were doing. This video is a follow up to their proposal which they put together, and it shows the whole family and legacy that they and their parents and their siblings are leaving behind them.

The relatively simple act of Saying Yes to Love has led to 14 children and 40 grandchildren…and 35 great-grand children!

Purpose

Now I don’t think you need to purposely set out to create a legacy, I am sure most of us don’t wake up in the morning and think “I’m going to be known for…” and then set along a path to do it. But I do think we need to be aware of our legacy, and acknowledge the decisions we make will affect where we’re going, and also the trail which we leave behind. Everything we do and say has consequences, positive and negative, especially when it is dealing with other people.

Foot in Mouth Syndrome

I used to be a fan of Changing Rooms back when it was on (showing my age again…), and one of the useful pieces of advice was “Measure twice, cut once” when it came to Handy Andy and his DIY. I believe we should apply the same ethos to our words, thoughts and decisions….”think twice, speak/do once”. I have been on the end of plenty of conversations where things are said and thought about afterwards, and I am as guilty as anyone for “foot in mouth” syndrome. But simple adjustments to the way we say and do things can make significant changes.

Leaving a legacy does’t have to involve lots of money, charitable foundations, art installations or best selling albums. Legacies don’t even have to include large families and multiple descendants. But leaving a legacy must involve love at its core, and saying Yes to Love may be the first step towards leaving your legacy.

What is your legacy today, if you look back? Where do you want it to be in 10 years time?

Dreams

We use a lot of media clips in our Sunday services, as they are great for opening a service, introducing a subject and focusing on a specific topic. But probably most importantly, the right clip will appeal to all and draw people in; young or old, men and women, wherever you are on your walk…a well chosen and appropriate media will bring everyone together in a shared experience and common starting place. This is probably why we use animations so often…although it could just as much be to do with the fact I have three children, so Disney/Pixar has been our friend for many years now. 

Now our senior minister has for some reason always had an aversion to animations. I don’t know if this was caused by a particularly hard episode of Tom and Jerry, or whether he never quite got over Bambi. But in the past whenever I’d suggested a clip which didn’t have real live people in it, he tried to deflect…and it was pretty much guaranteed he’d never seen it. That said, his anti-animation stance did mean he hadn’t had to endure several Barbie movies as I have (fortunately my girls have grown out of them now, although my wife did have to sit through a particularly torturous 80+ minutes of The Moshi Monster Movie recently, something she still hasn’t quite recovered from).

Up

These days it is acknowledged Disney/Pixar can almost do no wrong in our church, their movies hitting the perfect balance which delights and entertains both children and adults, something the Muppets used to do perfectly. Today’s clip is taken from the film “Up“, a quite wonderful movie about Carl, an elderly widower travelling to South America with a stowaway called Russell who is a Wilderness Explorer trying to earn his badges. Carl was a balloon salesmen, and so when his house is threatened with demolition he does the only reasonable and sensible thing…he attaches thousands of balloons to his house and simply floats away.

The movie is a thing of beauty, full of humour and warmth, it won two well deserved Oscars. The clip here which we used for our service focuses on the opening scene, a mini movie in it’s own right. It tells the story of Carl and Ellie; from when they first met, through their highs and lows, right through to Carl being widowed, which is where Up properly starts. As you’ll see in the clip, Carl and Ellie had a dream to visit Paradise Falls in South America, and they were constantly saving for their trip. But, as inevitably happens in life, other things get in the way, whether a punctured tire, house maintenance…something always depletes their dream jar. And just when they have enough to book the tickets and realise their goal….Ellie becomes unwell.

It is an emotional roller-coaster of a story, condensed into 5 minutes, which sets the scene for the movie to perfection. But it also reflects real life; so many of us had hopes and dreams, especially when we were younger. But as life goes by and the reality of the world takes over, too often our hopes and dreams are put aside, parked, or just plain forgotten about. I remember back when I was a kid, I was full of dreams, goals and ambitions…and then further down the line when the reality of mortgages, work and having a family took over, some of those dreams were parked, some drifted away, and many were forgotten about. But I still haven’t stopped dreaming, and my goals and ambitions are different. Our goals and ambitions are different. But we still have them, and are still creating them and realising them from day to day.

Dreams

At the end of the clip, Carl is going through their photo album and on the last page there is the inscription from Ellie…“Thanks for the adventure…now go and have a new one! Ellie x”. So while I’m not suggesting that you tie thousands of balloons to your house, I do encourage you to write down your dreams, share your ambitions and go and have some adventures, no matter where you are on your walk.

What dreams have you let go of? What ambitions and goals do you have now?

The Friendship Algorithm

Now when you’re looking for illustrations or examples of friendship, where do you start? The Bible? Do you speak to good friends that you have? Or search out some friendship movies or books?

There was of course Friends, who were always there for us…for 236 episodes that are still on constant repeat today. Bill and Ted were great friends, Harry, Hermione and Ron stuck together through the whole of the Harry Potter series and beyond. Elliott and ET were great friends until ET went home…Buzz and Woody stayed together long after Andy stopped playing with them, Chewie and Han always looked out for each other. And When Harry met Sally they became more than just friends.

But before I show my age by revealing any more favourite movies, the obvious place to start is by looking at Dr Sheldon Cooper, as we all know how well he makes and keeps friends…

We are all big Big Bang Theory fans in our household, and as with so many of these series, while they are proper funny they also tell us some great stories about life, relationships and the day to day…that dare I say I can relate to possibly too often? Or maybe I shouldn’t say that.

In this clip Sheldon is wanting to make friends with Kripke so that he can use his super computer. But as we know, Sheldon (putting it politely) isn’t the best at relationships. So he does what all scientists do…he creates a friendship algorithm.

We are using this on Sunday as an illustration as to how not necessarily to make, or be, a friend. This is a precursor to the final part of our series, Not Just Sundays, where we are looking at accountability partnerships and prayer cells.

And if you’re really, really interested, someone has gone to the trouble of recreating the algorithm for your use/pleasure:

What about you? How do you make friends? And how do you maintain friendships?