Day of prayer for the media

I have a print photograph from the same place as the digital image accompanying this post. It’s from the Newseum in Washington DC, where there’s a memorial to journalists who have been killed in the process of doing their job. My photo is from 17 or 18 years ago. There were a lot of names on the memorial then, but the thing that struck me was that there was also a lot of blank space. They expected journalists to continue dying in the course of doing their work.

This Sunday, the Media Net are asking Christians to pray for all those who work in the media. Not just journalists, but all those in the media; the sound guys, photographers, writers, producers… Honestly, I can’t think of a time when this is more needed.

We maybe don’t realise how significantly the media influences our culture. It shapes the way we see the world, not just in the stories that hit the headlines, but in the choice of storylines in EastEnders or through the images that fill the advertising space at the bus stop.

And yet, for years Christians were encouraged to avoid media jobs because, ‘they require you to work on Sunday’, or, ‘because your morals will be eroded away’. At least, those were the reasons I remember being given for why I shouldn’t pursue a media career. I think we are now seeing the result of this advice – take the Christian influence out of a community and see where it ends up.

Only our media aren’t going anywhere. TV, radio, magazines and adverts shape our culture and we need to encourage and support the Christians working in this environment to shine like a city on a hill.

But, the day of prayer for the media isn’t just about the Christians. We need to be praying for others in the industry to strive for truth and wisdom in the stories they are involved in telling.

So, what do you pray and who can you pray for?

The Media Net website has a page full of good ideas. You can also sign up to join in the Thunderclap on the 28th May.

Personally, I’m going to Tweet some people that I have contact with in the media and ask them what I can pray for them. Some are Christians, others aren’t, but it’s not bad to ask.

If you need more inspiration, the following audio clip is Hazel Southam on the Signal podcast. She’s a Christian and a journalist who works for a host of outlets. In this, she explains why this prayer is important for her. Hazel worked with me five years ago when we were involved in Biblefresh.

The video below is from the Media Net. Why not share it now on social media or use it in your service on Sunday when you encourage others to pray.

Header image by Ross Catrow from Richmond – James V. Walker, CC BY-SA 2.0,

When you need a giggle: Mark Thomas on demonstrating

Yesterday was a down day. Nothing especially bad, but by the time I got to bed I was tired, feeling flat and my body hurt from various bumps and scrapes. I needed something to make me giggle again.

Quite a few years ago, I was walking through Southampton one evening listening to the radio, when I caught this radio programme, Mark Thomas: My Life in Serious Organised Crime. I remember laughing so hard that I had to go and hide in the park next to the magistrate’s court to save my embarrassment.

The scene is set when a new law comes into force, saying that individuals need to get permission from the police to demonstrate in Parliament Square (a park opposite the Palace of Westminster, London, where the UK government is based). Mark’s friend, Sian, fell foul of the new law when having a picnic in Parliament Square and the police noticed her cake with the word ‘Peace’ iced on the top. That, they said, was a demonstration.

Mark said, ‘Any law that means we can be arrested over a cake, we must play with’. The whole story is now on YouTube.

For those of you unfamiliar with London, a copy of the map showing the area this law applies to is available here.

What to do with time

This month, the WEA Business Coalition published a discussion paper following the Congress of Christian Leaders. Under the title of Compromised Christians, they point to 10 areas where evangelical Christians leaders have possibly, ‘internalised the mindset of contemporary capitalism’.

The first point is on the use of time. They say,

1. … live too fast. More is more. We are always busy (even if “it is for the Lord”). To be a workaholic is not judged a sin.
BUT time is the currency of relationship, and Christians believe in a relational God. God made the 7th day as a day of rest, to protect families and low-income workers (Ex. 20:8-11, Deut. 5:12-15); he commanded that the land should rest every 7th year (Lev. 25:1-7); and he arranged rest for every 50th year too (Lev. 25:8-13). These commands are shadows of what is to come (Colossians 1:16). Christians should honour the Lord by expressing the principle of rest in ways appropriate to their situation, and in accordance with their own conscience (Romans 14:5), always showing particular care for the marginalised in society.
Read the rest of the paper on the New Zealand Christian Network site

The use of time came up again on Sunday, when our pastor shared a video of an interview of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, two of the wealthiest men in the world. Buffett gave a glimpse of his diary, which isn’t as full as maybe we’d expect.

I’m trying to think through how I spend my time. Time for work, time for family but also time for resting, thinking, time with God. I’m trying hard not to think I always need to be busy.

Incidentally, I think working hard and always being busy are two different things. You can work hard without having to have every minute filled with things to do.

If Ferrari can change, can’t the rest of us?

When it comes to Formula 1, there’s one car marque that carries more weight than any other. Ferrari has the history, the record and an iconic status that epitomises motorsport greatness. So, being so completely blown away by Mercedes over the last few seasons must have been pretty tough to take.

Last season was supposed to be different, with great promises made at the start of the year, but Ferrari failed to win a race. A year later and things seem to be different. Three races into the season and Ferrari has won two of them. So what changed?

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Ferrari, got involved.

He began a full investigation into how things worked at Ferrari’s Maranello factory. He personally interviewed many staff, not just the bosses, wanted to know their thoughts on why Ferrari could not compete with the best British-based teams, and asked for an explanation about why they had a reputation for lack of imagination and innovation in F1 design.

Marchionne decided the design department needed to be restructured, to free up some of the more creative minds and make a less top-down structure.

He identified, he has said, about 20 key “high-potential individuals” to promote and harness. Management was reorganised; the format of meetings, too.

The idea was to make design more flexible, to ensure all ideas were discussed and make the group more open to suggestions. And to encourage a greater sense of ownership and responsibility among a much wider array of people, to avoid the usual Ferrari problem of people keeping their heads down so they could not be blamed for failure.

From BBC Sport

Looking in from the outside, I see Ferrari as a car company that has great traditions that mark them out from many other manufacturers. The problem is when those traditions stopped them from succeeding in the things they want to achieve. Formula 1 being one of them.

It can’t have been easy to have meetings reformated, or the design team restructured. I’m sure there were individuals, who had been giving their all for the success of Ferrari, that were moved to the side, or out of the door. It’s probable that some of those given a voice hadn’t been around in the company for very long and probably didn’t do everything in the ‘Ferrari way’. But, they were what was needed to make the Ferrari Formula 1 team a success again.

I think this is a pretty good illustration of where structures needed to change, and new voices needed to be heard, in order to achieve a different result. I wonder where else this illustration could apply?

Disruptive change

Every so often, an event takes place that disrupts the normal and brings about significant change.

Once upon a time, people used to get their dose of television news at 6 pm or 9 pm (that’s in the UK). Now we have 24-hour rolling news channels that demand a constant feed of news.

Or people would buy a daily newspaper to find out what is going on. Now newspapers are struggling to make ends meet and need to meet a 24-hour news criteria to keep their online content current.

Of course, many of these changes have been made possible by the invention of the internet. The way we live is now heavily influenced by technology that makes global communication instant and allows anyone to have a voice. And, Apple’s iPhone, changed the game again, by putting all the technology required for this communication, in a device that can fit in the pocket of your trousers.

All of these changes disrupted the normal.

Why mention this today, other than recognising that the announcement of another election in the UK could provide an opportunity for more disruption?

Well, I’ve been thinking about how leadership necessitates the ability to negotiate disruptions to bring change. An article in The Straits Times, put it like this, ‘We want to catch the wave before it cascades over us, so that we can ride the wave rather than be crushed beneath it.’

Riding the wave can lead to new possibilities and allow changes for good, but you have to ride the wave, you can’t just cling on and hope to reach the shore.

I just wonder, how many things I think of as disruptions (issues, problems, etc) could actually be opportunities to bring positive change?

How pictures can shape our worldview

On Sunday, I was asked to give a brief illustration of one aspect of my team’s work, how the pictures we use shape our view of the world. I thought maybe I could share it with you.

In the following images, which characters would see as ‘good’ and which would we see as ‘bad’.

We have been conditioned to see those characters portrayed in white, or in the light, as good. While those in black, or kept in the dark, as bad.

This has carried across to film too. Luke Skywalker usually appears dressed in light coloured clothing, Darth Vader, in black.

The use of this kind of colour translated across into Christian literature too. Jesus is always portrayed in white, the devil in black. Even today, you’re more likely to find Jesus, wearing white robes and looking like he’s come from western Europe or North America, rather than dressed like a carpenter’s son from Galilee.

So when western Christians turned up in parts of the world where most people have a darker complexion, what did the images imply. That those with light skin were ‘good’ and those with dark skin were ‘bad’?

Even today we hear reports from people for whom these kinds of images have left scars.

But, I think this also questions the kinds of images we respond to today.

Most of our mental image of Africa are still formed by shocking pictures of famine and poverty. For me, I still can’t shake the images that led to Band Aid back in 1984, they still influence my perception of the world. And while famine still hits the continent, Africa’s a big place with a lot of other things going on. Our stereotypes that fit with those images from the 1980s are a stark contrast from the Addis Ababa light rail system or the urban sprawl of Lagos in Nigeria, Africa’s largest city.

Mission agencies have to take some of the blame for that. We haven’t always done a good job of representing the world we serve in. Mission today is as likely to require us to serve in urban or suburban areas around major cities, as to relocate to a rural community. While, today’s acts of service are much less likely to be as a sole evangelist in a cross-cultural setting and more as part of a strategic team, working alongside indigenous Christians and in partnership with the local church.

Of course, the images that represent these 21st Century mission roles are not the kinds of pictures that spur us to action. We are more ready to go and serve those that look different to us than to go to those that work in office blocks and have a daily commute. But, maybe this is where the church can do more to encourage us to see the world as it truly is, rather than as one presented to us in the pictures.

The book, The Future of the Global Church, puts it like this.

‘In 1800, only 3% of humankind lived in cities. It is estimated that in 2100 the figure will be nearly 90%. It was probably in 2007/08 that the world’s population first became predominantly urban’

Reflections on global leadership in community: Millennials

It was on my flight out to the global leadership gathering in Germany, that I began to reflect on the challenge of involving future generations with mission. The Business Life magazine from BA, contained the following quote,

‘One of the best ways to be equipped for the future is to give more responsibility to younger employees, says Brent Hoberman, who recently took part in the Evening Standard’s Young Progress makers event aimed at addressing some of the challenges the new generation is facing. Hoberman believes the speed of technological change is the greatest of these: “The young need the right skills to cope with the future. In the new economy, creativity will be crucial.” And young Londoners have an advantage, he says: simply by living in a city that is so multicultural, they will be likely to be receptive to different ideas.’

Of course, this issue of the magazine was all about London, so clearly they were talking up the city. But, there is something about growing up in a multicultural, multi-racial, technologically advanced metropolis that has an impact on the way a generation will approach life.

For mission organisations, we face a challenge of how to work with this new generation – even how to hand leadership over to them. We aren’t, yet, doing it very well.

I’m not, technically, a millennial, but I do identify with most experiences of the early millennials. This article, Why millennials are leaving the church, by Rachel Held Evans, could have been written about me.

Preaching on John 9: The testimony of a man born blind

I spoke on John 9 last night at Haddenham Baptist Church. It’s a wonderful passage, that comes at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles where the Jews would remember their time in the wilderness, living in tents while waiting for their more permanent home.

The things that I found most striking about this passage were:

Jesus isn’t the main character

After a pretty intense couple of chapters, set during the second half of the Feast, where Jesus talks about who he is, we arrive at the healing of a man who had been born blind. Jesus makes mud and puts it on his eyes and then sends him off to wash in the Pool of Siloam. That’s about it from Jesus until the end of the chapter when he comes to find the man he’d healed so that he can know who Jesus really is.

The rest of the chapter is the man’s testimony, first to his neighbours and then to the Pharisees about what had happened to him.

Fake news isn’t new

Anyone who thinks that fake news is a social media phenomenon needs to think again. This passage is littered with groups trying to put their own spin on the man’s story to suit their worldview.

18 The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents.

They already had the testimony of the people to say that this was the man who was once blind, and the statement of the man himself.

24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

The Pharisees had made their mind up as to who Jesus was, despite evidence to the contrary.

29 We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.”

This is a complete lie. In the previous chapters, the Pharisees had already commented on the fact that Jesus had come from Galilee.

In clinging to their own world view, the Pharisees can’t see the truth of the evidence put before them.

Seeing clearly

It’s interesting that the first time the blind man gets to see Jesus is at the end of the passage. He would have set off to the pool in the opening verses without having seen Jesus and by the time he came back Jesus was gone.

So the main bulk of his testimony was based on the understanding that being healed in this way could only be done by someone good with power over creation.

Then in the last few verses, he meets Jesus, and understanding fully worships him.

All that evidence

There’s a sting in this story for the Pharisees.

41 “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.

All the evidence the Pharisees have. Not just in what they have seen over the last few days, but all the knowledge they have in knowing the Scriptures, means that they should really be able to interpret what’s going on and who Jesus is – but all that knowledge seems to mean nothing.

There’s a caution for us in there too. Do we misinterpret evidence because of our own ideas and biases? Do we avoid asking questions because we are afraid of the answers we may get (or just ignore the answers anyway)?

The trinity in music

I was so pleased that a colleague shared an interview with Dr Jeremy Begbie, Duke Divinity School, talking about how music can help explain the trinity. This video briefly captures the point.

Reflections on global missional leadership in community: Intentionality

Personal Reflection

To give some background, like so many people in similar roles, I have never intentionally sought a leadership position. My dream was never to develop a team, take on challenges, or create a different world (I really wanted to be a radio DJ, that’s maybe another story), but over the years I’ve been allowed more experience and more opportunity to do just that. I’ve also discovered that I like this kind of thing and maybe I fit this much better than I would any radio studio.

In some ways, however, I feel like I’ve missed a step. In never intentionally seeking leadership roles I’ve not, until more recently, intentionally developed myself in this area.

Last week’s consultation helped me to reflect on my personal situation and reminded me that it would be helpful to get involved leadership conversations and intentionally take time to reflect and develop personally in the area of leadership. I should probably say that it’s not that I see myself as a bad or ill-equipped leader, but I know with more intentionality I can grow in this area.

Other intentional applications

The kinds of consultations we have in the Alliance don’t always result in fixed conclusions. We discuss ideas, develop some theories, raise new questions, but we don’t go away with a 5-point plan of how to apply what we’ve covered. I understand why some find that frustrating, but for me, it raises the question of what I can do within my sphere of influence to develop some of the themes with my team.

In my earlier post, I listed four areas that I was impacted by last week. Intentionality; millennials; globalisation, nationalism and polycentrism; and change and opportunity – in being intentional, it’s now down to my community to interpret these areas into our working practices. That’s me deciding to be intentional in what I do.