watch out for icebergs

I am fascinated by the way that internet memes seem to come around in cycles. Someone comes across a meme as ‘new to them’ and shares it, and a whole new generation of people who haven’t seen it before share it as if it’s new. That happened to me this week when someone shared the following:

“Never be afraid to try something new: remember that amateurs built the ark but professionals built the Titanic.”

Now I know what they are trying to say, but there’s a big flaw in this: the meme is based on flawed logic. You might as well say that my childhood go-kart that I used to ride down our drive was built by an amateur (my dad) but my car that I use on the roads is built by professionals! The different status of the builders was irrelevant to their success. It seems to me from my limited research that the reason the Titanic sank was not the build quality it was a failure to adapt to the environment. The Titanic was steaming at full speed and when a warning of icebergs in the area was received it should have reduced speed and increased the lookouts so that they could take avoiding action.

Image result for icebergs

Why didn’t they adapt? There are a number of theories. Perhaps the failure to adapt to the environment was also based on arrogance – the Titanic was famously claimed to be ‘unsinkable’ so why would you need to slow down? Maybe it was down to prestige – the desire to make the fastest passenger crossing of the Atlantic and the associated publicity and perhaps commercial success that would be associated with it. It’s possible that it was ignorance – a failure to recognise the dangers – but that seems unlikely given that Captain Smith was extremely experienced and had been master of numerous vessels.

Whatever the cause, it seems to me that the reason that the Titanic sank was not because of build quality but because of a failure to adapt to the environment.

So to what changes in our environment should we adapt?

There’s The Environment which, despite the Nelsonian blind-eye approach of Donald Trump and climate-change deniers, is changing rapidly (and potentially catastrophically) caused by human action. If we all make small changes it will make a big difference.

But there are other changes – technological change is increasingly changing the ways that we interact with one another and how we operate as human beings (at least in the countries where the technology is available and affordable). Reading some of the vitriol that is poured out via social media against people who have different views to the ‘author’ upsets me considerably. I wonder whether one change in environment to adapt to is a recognition that the impact and reach of what we say is far greater than we might imagine (like the amount of iceberg hidden under the surface of the water) and a realisation that we need to be more careful before steaming ahead at full speed with our opinions into iceberg-infested waters.

I believe that the concept of ‘family’ is sailing in dangerous waters. The traditional model of family has been changed by the family breakdown and divorce, social and economic mobility and other changes in society and moral attitudes that have created families with multiple parents, absent parents and other family configurations that would not have been imagined half a century ago. Some wring their hands and long for the ‘good old days’ but we are where we are. Whatever we think of this we need to adapt and sail carefully in these waters. Condemnation of difference merely because it does not conform with our ideal is likely to tear a huge gash in the hull of our society that is irreparable. Instead we could navigate far more wisely by emphasising the importance of communication, community, love and valuing all as wonderfully-created human beings.

I am sure you can think of others. However, there’s one other major difference between the Titanic and the Ark and that’s to do with motive for them being built. The Titanic was built for commercial reasons, the Ark was built to preserve life. One was a cruise-liner motivated by profit, the other was a lifeboat motivated by God. Which would you rather be on?

Be blessed, be a blessing

iceberg ministry

When I was little I decided that I wanted to be a Baptist Minister. It was a naive wish. It was based on a WYSIWYG assumption – that what you see is what you get as far as Ministers go, and all they do is prepare sermons and services. That sounded like a good life.

Antarctic Iceberg #4When I got bigger that desire did not diminish. Indeed I found that it was something God had placed within me. But I discovered that there is a little bit more to being a Minister than my naive WYSIWYG assumption. Baptist Ministers are like icebergs. No, not hard and cold and immersed in water. Most of what we do is unseen beneath the surface.

When I was employed by the Baptist Union of Great Britain in the Mission Department (before coming to Colchester) I was often asked, “How many people work at Baptist House?”

My cheeky answer was usually, “Most of us.”

I have had a similar facetious response to the question, “What do you do in an average week?”

“If I ever have an average week,” I say, “I’ll let you know.”

But both those answers are inadequate and unfair to the questioner, so here’s an attempt at describing what goes on underneath the surface. All of this is only possible because God is in me.

Leading Sunday services and preaching.

Preparation for services and sermons. (No, even though they may appear to be made up as I go along there is some work that happens beforehand!)

Visiting people – in their homes, hospital, workplace, coffee shops, or meeting them at the church. These sometimes happen by ‘accident’ (or Design?) and sometimes because God has put their name in my mind at the right time, or he has put me in the right place at the right time, or because it felt like it was time I saw them again.

Reading – that is the art of learning and growing through interacting with books, not going to the town in Berkshire.

Praying – sometimes in my study or at the church, often as I walk or drive around and pass someone or something that reminds me of people I know who are in need of prayer as well as using prayer diaries. I also try to have an attitude of gratitude and thank God when things go well.

Meeting people for a purpose – this is a step beyond the pastoral visits and may be a meeting to discuss a specific issue in someone’s life, an aspect of the church’s ministry or mission, meeting other ministers for encouragement, planning events and activities, meeting with committees to oversee the life and mission of the church (relatively few in our church), Church Meetings, preparing people to be baptised, and so on…

Mission – working with local schools in assemblies and having them come to our church as part of their curriculum or for special events, trying to find ways we can be better neighbours in our location, talking with local shopkeepers, meeting Council officials, helping out in Open Door, talking to people about Jesus, trying to be a good free sample of Jesus, building friendships, praying for people, working with others in our church in their mission activities…

Special Privileges – taking (or taking part in) thanksgiving services and funerals, weddings, baptising people, infant presentations…

Anything else God throws my way…

And. oh yes, blogging a bit too – reflecting on what is happening in my life and what God may be saying to me about it.

In September I have the privilege of three months’ sabbatical leave. This is made available to Baptist Ministers every seven years of their Ministry. I intend to explore issues around growing churches and how we plan for growth, given that we are a growing church but have not yet done a lot of planning and preparation for coping with that growth.

During my Sabbatical leave, an average week (if there will be one) is:

Leading Sunday services and preaching.

Preparation for services and sermons.

Visiting people – in their homes, hospital, workplace, coffee shops, or meeting them at the church. These sometimes happen by ‘accident’ (or Design?) and sometimes because God has put their name in my mind at the right time, or he has put me in the right place at the right time, or because it felt like it was time I saw them again.  I hope to visit a number of churches around the country that have been our size and grown to see what we might learn from their experience.

Reading – that is the art of learning and growing through interacting with books, not going to the town in Berkshire. Lots more of this than is possible normally.

Praying – sometimes in my study or at the church, often as I walk or drive around and pass someone or something that reminds me of people I know who are in need of prayer as well as using prayer diaries. I also try to have an attitude of gratitude and thank God when things go well.

Meeting people for a purpose – this is a step beyond the pastoral visits and may be a meeting to discuss a specific issue in someone’s life, an aspect of the church’s ministry or mission, meeting other ministers for encouragement, planning events and activities, meeting with committees to oversee the life and mission of the church (relatively few in our church), Church Meetings, preparing people to be baptised, and so on…

Mission – working with local schools in assemblies and having them come to our church as part of their curriculum or for special events, trying to find ways we can be better neighbours in our location, talking with local shopkeepers, meeting Council officials, helping out in Open Door, talking to people about Jesus, trying to be a good free sample of Jesus, building friendships, praying for people…

Special Privileges – taking (or taking part in) thanksgiving services and funerals, weddings, baptising people, infant presentations…

And. oh yes, blogging a bit too – reflecting on what is happening in my life and what God may be saying to me about it. I am not sure whether the bloggages will continue during my sabbatical leave… that may depend on how the mood takes me!

Space to think, reflect, pause, plan…

Go on a retreat.

Anything else God throws my way…

Come back  even more refreshed than I feel now.

So, that may help you understand a bit more about what a Minister does. It also helps me realise how much I need the support, wisdom and understanding of my family and friends!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A world-renowned preacher, evangelist and entrepreneur for God (one person, not three) had the ability to speak for ages at a time in a sermon and hold the congregation enthralled. However on one occasion he seemed to have lost the attention of one person at the back who raised one arm and pointed at the watch on it to indicate that it was time for the preacher to stop.

“Praise the Lord!” shouted the preacher when he saw this. “That man at the back is giving his watch to support global mission!”