Friday, 12 June 2009

Risk Taking

In 2007, Simon Hoggart and Emily Marks wrote a book called Don't tell Mum - Hair-raising messages from Gap-year travellers. Amazon's website describes it thus: "where once the news of narrowly surviving a bus crash on the dirt-roads of India, waking up to gunfire in Honduras or fending off marriage proposals from complete strangers would have made it home only on the back of a slow-moving battered postcard, these days those tantalising details and terrible mistakes are now recorded immediately and distributed liberally for every friend and family member to wince at." Isn't e-mail wonderful! Are text messages grand!

This is simply the 20-something version of the child climbing a tree. What does a parent do? On the one hand, climbing a tree is an exciting thing to do when you're 5 or 6 or 7 years of age. But, parents also know that children can fall out of trees and seriously damage themselves. So do you stop the child climbing the tree and deny them a new, exciting experience of life? or do you let them climb the tree, running the risk that they might fall and hurt themselves? Of such dilemmas is parenthood made!

Don't Tell Mum is made up of messages from people travelling the world and contacting people at home. "I'm just about to go bungee-jumping off the highest bridge I've ever seen, but don't tell mum because she'll worry!" And dad won't!!!

Some people are averse to taking risks; they simply want life to be safe and predictable because they take some peace and security from that. We live in a culture that tries to avoid risk as much as possible; before teachers can take their class on a trip they have to complete a risk assessment to make sure that this trip is as safe as it can be and that any risk to the children is minimal and manageable. There is a whole industry set up now to work with businesses to help them analyse the risk of certain actions or the risk of failing to do certain things. We try to manage risk as much as we can.

One thing is true: we will never avoid taking risks. Crossing the street is taking a risk! Tony Blair, as he was coming to the end of his time as Prime Minister, said that as he looked back over his occupation of Number 10, that he wished he had taken more risks because then he might have achieved more.

  • Last week, we were told that the Church census that we did in March revealed that an average of just over 9,000 people in Edinburgh were in Church of Scotland congregations for worship. That is 2% of the city's population. We have been watching these statistics decline for 10 years and have done nothing about them. Now, it is time to waken up. We no lonoger have 20 years to turn the Church aorund; if we don't take some risks now, at least half of the congregations in the city won't be here in 20 years time!
  • I am part of an on-going discussion about the future mission of the Church in Scotland and how we continue to provide ministry for every community in the country at at time when the financial resources available are diminishing.
  • The same survey in March told us that 50% of our membership in Juniper Green in over 60 years of age.

It seems to me that we have two choices: we can sit back and watch as the Church fades away into the distance and dies; or we can take some risks.

What risks must we take that will allow us to build a healthy and strong church for the future? I seriously hope that we will not be looking back in 10 years time saying, 'if only we had taken the risk in 2009... but we were too scared!'

What constitutes the "tree-climbing school" of church leadership?

Friday, 5 June 2009

Inertia rules OK?

Inertia - Why is it that things don't move?! We see it everywhere.

In Parliament there is widespread agreement that the expenses structure has to change. Gordon Brown even appeared on YouTube to tell us that things must change (Do you think he has ever watched anything on YouTube?) All of the parties agree that things can't go on as they are; the way in which MP's claim expenses has to change and they have told us that over and over again in the last three months. Now, having such a consensus, why has nothing been done? Why has it not changed yet? I accept that they need to get it right and to make the wrong changes could leave us with a damaging legacy, but it appears that nothing is happening at all to change things now.

I am Interim Moderator at St John's Oxgangs; Gillean Maclean left to go to become minister of a charge in Arran last September and I conducted my first Kirk Session meeting there 2 days after her induction. Presbytery then decided that the congregation had no independent future and the Deployment of resources committee was set to examine all of the other options. From that day (September 22nd) to this, we are no nearer a solution. Inertia is not quite the right word here, because there has been some action, but not much and very little of it has been productive or quick! The congregation is hurting and is left wondering what will happen next and, most of all, why no-one is coming to tell them anything.

I found this clipping a long time ago in Minister's Forum a Church of Scotland publication for ministers:
A Mission station in Central Africa had suffered from a native uprising. Buildings were destroyed and school and church were burned. The missionaries felt that they ought to inform headquarters as soon as possible, so a telegram was sent to "121." (shows the age of the story!) It read "Native rebellion. Church destroyed. School destroyed. Work at a standstill." However being good Presbyterians they thought the should add a word to show that they were not totally down-hearted. So they added two words: "God reigns." However, in the course of transmission an extra "s" crept into the last word and when the telegram arrived in Edinburgh it read "God resigns" The good folk in Edinburgh took it at its face value and decided to make an appropriate reply, and did so in the following words: "Our thoughts and prayers are with you. We regret the decision of God. However, committee will carry on."

God has not resigned or gone away; God is still at work in people's lives. That is why we have seen, over the last few months, a steady stream of new people appearing in our morning services. God is not a God of inertia but a God who is constantly doing new things. Our lives are changed, our needs are met, other people see Jesus in us and hear about Jesus from us - so God is at work in our world.

Sadly, His people are not always the same. So often, in Church, inertia sets in! There are all sorts of plans we make and promises, but nothing happens. Someone suggested to me that there is an attitude in Churches that thinks "We've had a meeting about this; we've decided to do x,y and z; that's it dealt with" without realising that we then need to go away to do x,y and z. Deciding to do it is not enough; we actually need to achieve it!

Rant over, I'm just off to do x,y and z!