Leave Francis alone; Jory go home

Leave Francis alone; Jory go home

Here’s a tale of two preachers. One is named Francis Chan. He’s a well-known and much-loved pastor, preacher, author and church planter. He speaks on some of biggest platforms in the country, and is the author of several best-selling Christian books. The other is Jory Micah. She is an itinerant preacher and blogger. She engages in social media to support young women and girls build self-esteem, follow God and serve the church. Both Francis and Jory dominated my social media feeds last week, for different reasons.   Francis Goes to Asia Francis recently announced that he is moving to Hong Kong to do evangelistic missionary work in Asia. It’s a bold, costly and impressive decision, prompted by his travels in Asia and in particular his recent evangelistic ministry in Myanmar. But Francis’ announcement prompted a New Zealand missionary, Craig Greenfield, who has himself served in South East Asia for many years, to post a blog raising concerns about Francis’ posture in moving to Asia. In no way was Greenfield suggesting Francis’ decision was a bad one, or that he ought not move to Asia. In fact, he encourages Francis to relocate there. But he did take the opportunity to get people to think about the approach Western missionaries need to take while in developing countries. In fact, I thought his

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Is this country even capable of telling the truth?

Is this country even capable of telling the truth?

Last weekend, police officers shot and killed a 19-year-old man, Kumanjayi Walker in the central desert community of Yuendumu, Northern Territory. Eye-witnesses have disputed the police report that Walker resisted arrest and attacked the officers, stabbing one, thereby forcing the police to defend themselves. But no one disputes the fact that the police, terrified of reprisals from the local community, locked themselves in their station with Mr Walker’s body, turned out all the lights and refused to tell the family whether he was alive or dead as they waited for reinforcements to arrive. There are now national calls for a full independent investigation into what happened to Mr Walker. The residents, predominantly Walpiri people, are calling for the police to leave Yuendumu for at least one year. It feels like remote little Yuendumu is becoming our latest Black Lives Matter moment.   In the midst of all the grief and anguish, anger and confusion that has characterized this terrible incident, I heard local people being reported as saying that what happened in Yuendumu “feels like Coniston.” Coniston? I had to Google it. Coniston cattle station is not far from Yuendumu, and the Walpiri are referring to the massacre that took place there in 1928 when up to 170 died in a series of reprisal killings of Warlpiri, Anmatyerre, and Kaytetye

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The 40:40:20 Principle — reaching those you have a chance of influencing

The 40:40:20 Principle — reaching those you have a chance of influencing

There are lots of arguments being had by Christians on social media right now. And I mean lots!  Is climate change accelerated by human activity? Can women preach and lead in churches? Should the president be impeached? What does a generous Christian policy on immigration reform look like? Should we have tougher gun control laws? And that’s not to mention abortion, same-sex marriage, creation, etc. etc. And the impression most people seem to have is that all that typing and posting and sharing and venting and raging and debating achieves absolutely nothing. No one is ever convinced of the other side. No one ever changes their mind. No one ever sees both sides of the story. In other words, the conventional wisdom is that online debates are a complete waste of time and energy. But I’m not so sure. Recently, I was introduced to the 40:40:20 principle for social media discussions, which refers to the alignment of your audience in any online debate. It goes like this: When you’re seeking to influence others to your point of view, 40 percent of your online friends and followers will agree with you no matter what you say, or what you do, or how provocatively you stir the pot. That’s your base. They respect you and like you and value the same things

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The mainstream church needs feisty, determined, experimental communities

The mainstream church needs feisty, determined, experimental communities

In 2017, in the lead up to International Women’s Day, sculptor Kristen Visbal installed a piece of guerrilla art on the pedestrian island right where Broadway splits at Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan. Her sculpture was titled Fearless Girl, a four-feet tall depiction of a defiant ten-year-old girl, her feet planted firmly on the ground, her hands on her hips, her head held high. I refer to her as guerrilla art because, while the city of New York granted Visbal a 30-day permit for her sculpture, its position was contentious and only ever intended to be temporary. That’s because Visbal positioned Fearless Girl right opposite one of the financial district’s most iconic tourist attractions, Charging Bull. This huge bronze bull was sculpted by Arturo di Modica in 1989, and gifted to New York to be installed near Wall Street as a reminder to financiers, bankers, hedge fund managers and stock brokers that the US economy was a wild beast, and that their job was to limit the damage it could do to the poor and vulnerable. Charging Bull is a symbol of muscularity, power, strength, unbridled energy. That was until Fearless Girl came along. The relationship between these two statues is an intriguing one. Fearless Girl is unquestionably enhanced by the presence of Charging Bull. Instead of facing up to

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Tourists are jerks, and we’re all tourists

Tourists are jerks, and we’re all tourists

Uluru is a massive, gorgeous, red sandstone monolith in the heart of Australia’s outback. Named Ayers Rock by white settlers, its deed was officially handed back to the traditional custodians, the Anangu people, in 1985. The Anangu promptly returned the rock to its original name, and installed signs informing tourists that because Uluru is a sacred site they were requested not to climb on it or show disrespect to it. But for 34 years, many tourists blithely ignored those signs and happily scaled the rock. One woman filmed herself performing a striptease on the rock. Several people have hit golf balls off the top of Uluru. Many have urinated on it. This year after decades of lobbying the government, the traditional owners finally succeeded in banning the climbing of Uluru, and announced that all pedestrian access on the rock itself was to cease at 4.00pm on October 25. You’d think this would confirm that how seriously the Anangu people took this matter. After over 30 years of politely requesting we not climb their rock, they were now resorting to outlawing it. However, instead of an immediate drop in the number of climbers, 2019 saw an unprecedented increase, as tourists from around Australia and overseas rushed to Uluru to climb the monolith before the ban came into effect. Pictures of hundreds

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Dinner Church, anyone?

Dinner Church, anyone?

There was quite a reaction to one of my recent blog posts about Fresh Expressions in Leicester, England, and how we need new ways of doing and being church today. I’ve had quite a lot of interest in what these new ways could look like. I’ve even been interviewed by radio stations around the world about it. Whenever I’m asked what these new ways look like I always tell them about dinner churches, which I think is a really beautiful, simple, achievable way to start a new kind of congregation. And I’m not alone, it turns out. Leonard Sweet, writer, futurist, scholar, once said, “Whenever I’m asked, ‘What is God up to?’ my most common answer is, ‘Have you heard of the dinner church movement?’.” So, what is dinner church? Well, it’s dinner.  And church.  Scrunched together. But there’s so much more to it than that. Here’s a few dinner churches from around the world to give you a little taste.   ST LYDIA’S, BROOKLYN  St Lydia’s was the original dinner church. They don’t only eat together, they prepare the meal together. When you arrive, you get given a job like stirring a pot or slicing veggies or setting the table. At St Lydia’s, they figure working together is an intrinsic part of the experience. It builds community and brings

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Sing Freedom! Why isn’t Christian music more revolutionary?

Sing Freedom! Why isn’t Christian music more revolutionary?

Nearly fifteen years ago, I ruffled a few feathers when I criticized contemporary Christian music for its highly romanticized – even sexualized – lyrics for expressing devotion to God. In my 2006 book, Exiles, I carped about Matt Redman declaring “Jesus, I am so in love with you,” and Delirious singing “We are God’s romance,” and I outlined all the reasons why I thought the phenomenon of feeling “in love” was an entirely inappropriate phrase for Christian worship. “Jesus ain’t my boyfriend,” I whined.   But things changed after that. And not just because I didn’t like the worship-romance phase of contemporary Christian music. Let’s face it, I have zero influence on the scene. Who knows what happened. Maybe contemporary Christian music (CCM) just grew up. But today, songs like Hillsong Worship’s “This I Believe (The Creed),” and “What a Beautiful Name,” and Lauren Daigle’s “Light of the World,” and many more, combine decent theology, biblical phraseology, and engaging poetry. It’s a welcome relief to the Jesus-is-my-lover era of Christian singing. More recently, however, other critics have emerged to say that CCM lyrics are too individualistic, too pietistic, too safe. People like U2’s Bono, and Christian hip-hop artists Lecrae and Marty Mar from Social Club Misfits, have bemoaned the tame, risk-averse nature of Christian music. In a couple of recent

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New kinds of churches really are the hope of the future

New kinds of churches really are the hope of the future

This week I came across two news stories from different Anglican dioceses on opposite sides of the world, one of which heartened me greatly.   DECLINE IN SYDNEY The first story wasn’t the one that heartened me. It was from the Diocese of Sydney entitled “Behind the decline in Church attendance”, and in it, Anglican priest, Antony Barraclough tried to make sense of the dropping rate of attendance at Sydney Anglican church services. It caught my eye because even though falling religious affiliation is routinely reported across Australia, I often hear people holding up Sydney Anglicanism as a last bastion of growth and vitality. Not so, it turns out. Back in 2011, in an article entitled “Why Aren’t We Growing?”, Tony Payne reported that, based on weekly average service attendance data of all ages, Sydney Anglican congregations were barely growing at around 1.4% per annum. He then pointed out that the population of Sydney itself was growing at around 0.9%. In other words, back then Sydney Anglican growth had completely stalled. But now we hear it is declining. In his more recent article, Rev Barraclough tries to interrogate reasons for this decline. None of the reasons he suggests have anything to do with Sydney Anglicanism itself. The problem pretty much gets boiled down to “the world has changed and our

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God is a fountain of sending love

God is a fountain of sending love

Who doesn’t love a fountain? Fountains are extravagantly, unceasingly festive. Whether it’s the continuous trickle of Rome’s Trevi fountain, or the exuberant bursts of the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas, a fountain is a thing of joy. Some fountains are flashy and show-offy, like Seoul’s Banpo Bridge Moonlight Rainbow. Others, like New York’s Bethesda fountain in Central Park, are stately and majestic. Human beings have been figuring out how to move water since time immemorial. The Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, they all built ingenious systems for hoisting water from rivers for drinking and irrigation. But the Romans perfected it. They built aqueducts and public baths. They worked out how to make fountains spray water into the air by using the pressure of water flowing from a distant and higher source. After them, the Islamic world built fountains in Pasargades, Lahore, Alhambra and Istanbul. And then, during the Renaissance, Europeans went crazy for fountains. They built them everywhere and in every possible configuration. But in this day and age, with our hot and cold running water and our swimming pools and jacuzzis, what exactly is the point of a fountain? Surely, they serve no purpose other than to be sheer, unadulterated fun. Nowhere is this more obvious than Jaume Plensa’s hilarious Crown Fountain in Chicago’s Millennium Park. More than merely

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Brotopia: breaking up the church’s boys club

Brotopia: breaking up the church’s boys club

Last year, Emily Chang published Brotopia, about the boys club running the tech industry in Silicone Valley. But if there is a truly entrenched brotopia anywhere it would be in the church, and specifically in the clergy. Many men have voiced their support for women in leadership in the church. Sadly, even those male allies calling for the breaking up of the church’s boys club can sound a bit hollow when they belong to teams comprising all men, attend conferences at which only men speak, sit on all-male committees, worship in churches with only men on the staff, and only read books written by men. One of the important ways male leaders will break up the boys club in our churches is to model change in their own lives and ministries. That means submitting to the leadership and insights of women. Are we learning from women? Are we being led by women? Are we modelling a more inclusive stance on gender in the church? Here are some suggestions for ways that men who wish to affirm the role of women as teachers and leaders might do that:   1. Invite a woman to be your mentor If we are serious about affirming the role of women in our churches then one small but important step could be to invite a

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