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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

one at a time...

Monday, July 31, 2006

I loved 'this' extract from Mike Yaconelli posted by a good friend, Paul, on his blog. It's part of a discussion between a youth worker (Yaconelli himself?) and God, and has much to say to conversations I've been having recently with a mate who's chaplain at a successful sports club. He is asking how we resist the pressure (often from the 'church', sometimes from ourselves) to see missional 'success' in terms of numbers belonging to a gathered community (i.e. old church-planting type mission) and begin to see it in terms of making disciples who make disciples...

Jesus: "I don't like crowds. Go back and read my story. Yes, I had crowds from time to time, but most of the people in them just wanted more wine, food, and power. Then, when I didn't give them what they wanted, they killed me. Nope. I don't like crowds. Besides, my best work was done one on one. You know...the woman at the well, the crazy guy, the blind man, the prostitute. That's when I did my best stuff."

Me: "But...um...that isn't very efficient."

Jesus: "I know. I don't believe in efficiency."

Me: "What?!?"

Jesus: "Let me put it this way. I believe in making disciples one at a time. Very slow stuff."

Me: "But Jesus, I thought you were into 'fast'."

Jesus: "Nope. I'm about slow. And small."

Me: "Oh, man. If I keep listening to you, I'm going to be fired!"

Jesus: "Good for you."

Me: "Good for me?!? Uh, Jesus, it's not that easy!"

Jesus: "I didn't say it would be easy. I said it would be hard."

Me: "But hard is...well...hard."

Jesus: "Tell me about it.

Go read the full quote 'here' - thanks Paul!


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:09 AM | link | 0 comments |

forever involved...

Friday, July 28, 2006

On Sunday I'm a 'guest preacher' at a Baptist church in Liverpool (slightly scary!) and have been asked to preach on John 2:1-11, the event of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana. As I've been thinking about this passage and preparing for the sermon, a new take (for me at least) on the interpretation of the miracle has crossed my mind! It may not be revolutionary to some, but I thought I'd share it here in an extract from the sermon (as it currently stands!). I guess regular readers of this blog will not be surprised by this interpretation - it's all part of the 'God at Large' discussion...

Much has been written by theologians and biblical commentators about the significance of the water jars and wine; the point being that the new wine of the messianic kingdom made the prior Jewish religious ritualism obsolete and seem empty by comparison. A new thing was happening and Jesus was its source and its focus. In John 10:10 we get that famous saying of Jesus, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full", and here right at the beginning of John's gospel Jesus is demonstrating this new found freedom and abundant life, being at home in a party with freely flowing alcohol. This sign is itself a foretaste of the abundance of the heavenly banquet, the direct opposite of the rules-obsessed religion of the Pharisees.

That's the generally accepted interpretation of this miracle, and its one that I am persuaded by. However, I want to add another dimension - one that I think is often overlooked. When we strip back this deep symbolic theology and look at the wedding couple, what do you think they made of this event when they became aware of it? I think they would simply have felt blessed - helped by this man Jesus and spared a whole lot of embarrassment and shame. We don't know if they had acknowledged Jesus for who he is - it was so early in his ministry that it's highly unlikely that they had. But there he was, in the midst of their wedding celebration active in giving them, and anyone else who was open to receive, a taste of the kingdom of God. They didn't have to go looking for him; it didn't take a good Christian disciple to bring him to them; he was there of his own initiative involved in their lives.

And that's pretty much par the course for the rest of Jesus' ministry - he was to be found amongst people and in situations that the most religious people in his society would not have expected him to be. God was active outside of the boxes that religion had placed him in. Throughout his short public life, Jesus was plagued by the religious elite accusing him of hanging out with drunkards and being too comfortable in the presence of sinners. Why did he get this reputation? Because he was hanging out with drunkards and spending time with sinners!! He even gained a reputation of being a drunkard himself; such was the company he willingly kept.

I wonder if we, the church today, are in danger of falling back into the trap of boxing God up again. Are there places that we don't expect God to be or ways we don't expect him to act? Would we expect to find God in a club, for instance, or in a mosque or in a brothel? Can we expect to find signs of the kingdom in those places, as God takes it upon himself to be involved in people's lives at his own initiative? Or, does God hold back until people are in more 'Christian' environments?

Of course, it's pretty obvious what I think the answer is to those rhetorical questions - God is at large!

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 4:02 PM | link | 0 comments |

the monkeysphere and the small world...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

At '24 hours...' Steve Collins gave a fascinating presentation on network theory from the world of mathematics. Although my brain couldn't quite keep up with Steve's (!) I did grab hold of one or two nuggets that seem to be particularly relevant to the emerging church, in particular the idea that, since we all have limits to how much we can network (the 150 rule states that we can only have meaningful relationships with 150 other people - our 'monkeysphere'), it is benefitial for any community to task one or two members with networking externally so that the group is not isolated and remains connected to a larger network. I guess this is something we're attempting to do in the Dream network (though none of us had prior knowledge of the mathematical theory!) - time will tell if it does lead to a richer community life.

Steve has generously posted his notes 'here' both as text and as a Quicktime movie file, so go and check it out for yourself! In addition, Jonny has blogged his thoughts about Steve's presentation 'here', and wikipedia's article on small-world networks is 'here'.


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:34 AM | link | 1 comments |

a tragedy...

Monday, July 24, 2006

After enjoying Dreamspace with my wife and kids, and blogging about it 'here', 'this' came as a dreadful shock. Pray for those involved...

update... read more from the BBC 'here', 'here', 'here', 'here', and 'here'


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:04 AM | link | 0 comments |

24 hours...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

After a day off with the family yesterday, I thought I'd better get online to catch up with the last 4 days of blog posts from my (not so) select list of 47 blogs. As I did, I was expecting to find loads of insightful comments about the High Leigh 24 hour consultation/gathering of 30 or so Emerging Church practitioners that I was a part of at the end of last week. What a refreshing surprise to find an almost total silence from the myriad of bloggers who were present! The only direct posts on this that I can find to date (does this count as one?!) are those of Andrew Jones 'here' and Mark Berry 'here' - both are well worth reading (and the resulting comments too).

It's a 'refreshing' surprise because I think the general reluctance to blog about the occassion reflects the honesty of the 24 hours and the struggle to find a single (or agreed) voice for the conversation and practices that we're all involved in. This was highlighted from the off when Ryan stood up to give the opening presentation, which began with a slide reading simply '24 hours...', and said "I didn't know what this thing was called so I just put this" - none of us did Ryan so '24 hours...' works for me!

I'm hesitant then in breaking the blogging silence over this '24 hours...', and certainly don't see myself as the GRUNT blogger that Andrew Jones longs for (a grunt blogger - yes, but not the GRUNT blogger!). However, I do feel the need to record here that, for me at least, these two half-days were perhaps the most enjoyable and useful 24 hours of 'conference-type' stuff I've been involved in for as long as I can remember. The discussion was always open and honest and, despite being in a room full of emerging church 'household names', no one ever presumed to speak for all or be the 'leader' or guru or whatever. It was a genuine conversation of equals, all passionately involved in seeking to discern and join in the missio dei in their own context.

The BIG question of the 24 hours revolved around whether we should form a more intentional network to better share resources and support each other in struggling with the issues. Whilst identifying strongly with some of the voiced concerns about naming a 'movement' and being seen to be projecting ourselves as the answer (as an aside, see Steve's great comment to my post 'here' for a view as to why this would be so dangerous), if that particular '24 hours...' was anything to go by I for one would value further opportunities to get together to think theologically, ecclesiologically and missiologically (I'm sure there's something relevant here about 'iron sharpening iron' or something), and to hear more amazing stories of what God is doing in and through the UK emerging church.

Update... 25/7... the silence is slowly crumbling... more blog posts relating to the '24 hours...' are slowly emerging (!)... see comments of Steve Collins and Jonny Baker, and further thoughts (with piccies) from Andrew Jones.

Update... 26/7... Richard White joins the now 'not-so-silent' silence! (I think I'll leave the updating here since if you're reading this you're probably reading the other blogs anyway!!)


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 2:17 PM | link | 2 comments |

description or prescription...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I was in Manchester yesterday at the North-West leg of the Blah tour with Ryan Bolger and Karen Ward. It was a good day - highlights included hearing (and seeing) something of the COTA story from Karen, having the opportunity to hear Ryan talk more about his and Eddie Gibbs' research for 'Emerging Churches', and (of course) the many engaging conversations had with people there!

One of the things that I started thinking about yesterday, in the light of the book, is how a definition founded on genuine observation of what is happening could so easily become an 'off-the-shelf' model that others try to follow, so missing the central point of contextualisation. The book, based on extensive research, describes the Emerging Church in terms of nine common practices...

"Emerging Churches (1) identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, and (3) live highly communal lives. Because of these three activities, they (4) welcome the stranger, (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities." (Gibbs & Bolger, Emerging Churches, SPCK, 2006, p45)

As I read the book (and listened to Ryan talk yesterday) I recognised so much of what Dream had become in that description (though there are some aspects that we don't exhibit so clearly too). However, neither Dream nor the many EC groups that Bolger and Gibbs researched set out with this 9-part plan as a model to emulate - they simply evolved (emerged!) into this identity. The important thing for all of them, which was heard time and time again in the stories contained in the book, was that they were seeking to build faith communities that were true to their context.

Bolger and Gibbs' work is invaluable in gaining an insight into what is coming into being under the banner 'Emerging Church', and the 9-point definition is a useful handle to understand the commonalities of EC groups. However, I do fear that what has been stated as observational analysis may be adopted by some as a blue-print and so become restricting and controlling of genuine emergence. If well-meaning initiatives simply set out to 'create' the 9 points of Gibbs and Bolger's analysis, they are likely to simply fall into the trap that the EC has been intent on avoiding - turning up and 'doing' church for a group of people according to a pre-determined model. All of this is not to undervalue the book - I'm glad it's been researched and written and have found it incredibly affirming. I just hope it's properly understood for what it is - analysis - and is not abused as a model to follow.

I'm looking forward to hooking up with Ryan and Karen and others again on Thursday for a 24 hour consultation - maybe this is something we could pick up there!

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:48 AM | link | 2 comments |

tuning the eye...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

One of the key insights of alternative worship for me has been in seeking to create space for both corporate and individual engagement with God (resourced by meditations, prayer stations and the like), rather than simply imparting a pre-determined 'message'.

I first came across this approach to planning worship several years back when I read 'The Prodigal Project' and was deeply persuaded by Mark Pierson's description of the worship 'leader' as 'curator'.

There Mark asked...

"What would happen to the worship I prepared if I looked at it differently? What if I saw the task not as a mechanical, logical, modernist one of putting stuff in the right order so that it 'progressed' through a form to give a predetermined message with an anticipated outcome, but instead saw myself more like a curator of an art gallery?"

He then explains what he means in using this term 'curator'...

"A curator who considers the space and environment as well as the content of worship and who takes these elements and puts them in a particular arrangement, considering juxtaposition, style, distance, light, shade and so on. A maker of context for worship rather than a presenter of content. A provider of a frame inside which the elements are arranged and rearranged to convey a particular message for a particular purpose. A message that may or may not be overtly obvious, may or may not be similar to the message perceived by another worshipper." (Riddell, Pierson & Kirkpatrick, The Prodigal Project, SPCK, 2000, p63)

In 'How (Not) to Speak of God' Pete Rollins describes this aspect of Ikon's worship in the following eloquent (I wish I could come up with words like this!) way...

"Each service also attempts to remain faithful to the Augustinian axiom that only God gives God. Because of this the services are designed in such a way as to minimize specific doctrinal statements in favour of employing the Christian narrative to create a space for reflection and encounter. In this way Ikon resembles more an optician's surgery, which helps the eye become more receptive and sensitive to light, rather than a painter's studio, which would offer images for the sight." (Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God, SPCK, 2006, p75)

I love that image of worship seeking to tune the eye (and heart and mind) so that it can see, rather than telling the eye what to see. Granted, this approach is more risky in that it opens the worship experience up to whole range of (mis)interpretations, but the stories of many people who have had profound experiences of God in the midst of such 'open' worship keeps me walking in this direction and trusting the Spirit of God who 'leads us into all truth'.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 1:03 PM | link | 2 comments |


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

my wife and I took the kids to Dreamspace at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral yesterday - they had a great time in a wonderfully ambient setting (with sounds piped into the installation for good effect!) It's there until Sunday of this week, and well worth a visit if you're in Liverpool. The pictures were taken on my phone camera so don't really capture the amazing effects!


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 4:36 PM | link | 0 comments |

stop the traffik...

Monday, July 10, 2006


check out the 'web site', get informed, join the campaign and add the banner to your blog/web site (find out how 'here')!

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:18 AM | link | 0 comments |

the habit of giving...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

'This' post by Mark Berry is well worth reading. In talking about generosity as opposed to profit-driven consumerism, Mark writes the following about the role of blogging in the emerging church conversation...

we don't sell we share (with exceptions of course)... we put our ideas in half-baked form out there, we put our resources in editable form out there, we put ourselves - our neurosis, our concerns, our spirituality etc. etc. out there! Maybe we have developed the 'Habit of Giving' if so it is worth CELEBRATING! Kester is right there is 'virtuous circle' a network of gift that is so much richer for all concerned than the old way of saving up you [sic] knowledge/resources then sell them! Let's challenge the 'book culture' that says you are nothing till you've published a book! Lets abandon experts and see everyone as learners, lets give away the things we have, let's take risks with the talents we've been given!

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 2:09 PM | link | 0 comments |

moving beyond the self

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

True to form, Pete Rollins has posted an excellent reflection 'here' on the problem of much conventional evangelism being essentially self-focussed (i.e. getting yourself into heaven or avoiding hell). The crux of his argument lies in the following quote...

Yet is it not true that within Christianity we are encouraged to transcend ourselves, to move beyond the mundane aspects of our own existence by engaging in an outward focus towards the other? Is this not what we find in the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew when asked by some Sadducees' and Pharisees' about the greatest commandment. In reply Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and "Love your neighbour as yourself"

I agree wholeheartedly with Pete that the essence of Jesus' call is to look beyond yourself to the building of the kingdom marked by giving love. I've always been concerned when I hear so-called evangelistic talks that seem to be using fear tactics to get people to become Christians - the kind of 'tell them how bad hell is and then how to get out of it' kind of preaching!

However, I am struck by a paradox in all of this, in that we are only truly able to look beyond ourselves when secure in ourselves. This is why, for me, the personal aspect of relationship with Christ is so important. I'm reminded of a discussion that took place earlier in the year on the Dream blog 'here' in response to an article by Professor John Suk. There I wrote the following...

I find myself split on this, because on the one hand I do worry that the emphasis on personal relationship reduces (and I use that word purposely) the mission and ministry of Jesus to nothing more than pampering to a consumerist individualism (not what Jesus was about and certainly not the cultural milleau in which he lived!) Jesus' constant reference to the 'Kingdom of God' would have carried clear societal meaning to his hearers - the society of God. In other words, the mission and ministry of Christ is nothing less than a transformation of the world - the building of a new order where God's values are the rule of the day. Salvation is not just about what we're saved from but what we're saved to - participation in this new society.

However, my fundamental belief in the missio dei keeps me anchored in the 'earthed' gospel (REAL good news) of God's intimate involvement in this world. The ascension of Christ does not indicate an absence of God as Jon Suk seems to suggest. It was followed by Pentecost which signified the exact opposite - a fuller and more intimate engagement of God in the world. For that reason, I am comfortable to speak of a real and dynamic relationship with God, through Jesus, by the powerful presence of his Spirit. BUT, and it's a big but, this 'relationship' does not end with me - it's not about a fluffy feel-good factor! This relationship compels me to be engaged with God's world too - to be in relationship with those around me living out the society of God.

Incarnation was not only a one-off event (God becoming flesh for 33 years) but is a timeless truth - God is engaged and calls his Church to be the same.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:39 AM | link | 4 comments |

a healthy dose of irony...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A friend's just sent me 'this link' - well worth a look if you've got a free 5 minutes to watch it all. I thought it was hilarious, especially the line that goes...

Yeah baby
When it comes to a good book
Stephen King's resume just can't compare
39 + 27 = 66 books
And if you're Catholic...there's even more


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:50 AM | link | 0 comments |