Searching for love

Last Thursday I was in London, a little under a week after three men went on their crazed attack on London Bridge and around Borough Market.

I wanted to visit the area, to pray for those who had been directly impacted by the violence, to pray for my country as we work out how to respond to yet another act of terror and also to pray for the church in this area, as these communities try to work out how to bring light into a dark situation.

Of course, on Thursday there was still a significant police cordon around Borough Market. Some roads and businesses were closed, as was Sothwark Cathedral which stands right on the edge of the market.

On the opposite side of the road from the market, just where Borough High Street turns into London Bridge, there’s a space that has been covered by flowers. Some from those who were there last Friday, but mostly from people who wanted to express their feelings of sorrow and loss.

Next to the place where the flowers have been laid, there’s a wall that supports a raised pathway. The wall has been covered with multicoloured post-it notes. Short messages of love and hope from people trying to express something of their emotions and hopes.

‘Don’t fear, don’t hate, fight back with LOVE’, says one message. ‘London will come through using love and tolerance’, says another. Yet another says, ‘From Manchester with love’, more striking with it being days since the Manchester Arena bomb attack.

The themes of love and unity come through again and again as people try to process and respond what took place.

I walked on from London Bridge, along the bank of the River Thames, and over the Millennium Bridge and up towards St Paul’s Cathedral.

The dome of the Cathedral stands out above much of London’s skyline. Some of the newer skyscrapers have taken different shapes due to the various protected views that exist to this point in the city. It’s an impressive building that has stood in its present form since 1675.

It has also meant a whole lot to London. During the Blitz, there was a team of fire wardens posted around the Cathedral to protect it in the event of a firestorm. The feeling was, as long as St Paul’s was standing, London would survive.

Across the road, on Sermon Lane, stands the National Firefighters Memorial, a reminder of how much this city suffered during those months of the second world war. Over 40,000 dead, thousands more injured and a whole nation impacted.

For me, walking past this memorial, the Cathedral and various other churches that are dotted around that part of London, put more of the previous week’s events into context.

Disasters, large and small will continue to impact this world. No matter how well policed and protected our cities become, it will not put an end to those who want to do harm and who view death as the ultimate tool to bring about their agenda. How we process these events, reflect on them and consider what death my mean matters more than ever.

A Passion for Mission

Yesterday afternoon I joined a few hundred church and mission leaders at All Souls in central London for Global Connections, Passion for Mission conference.

There were two key elements to this year’s event. The afternoon session hinged on the theme: God’s Mission in a Time of Transition. What is the role of the UK in mission today in a world that has changed so much and continues to change? Before an evening session where we celebrated the contribution of outgoing director Martin Lee and welcomed incoming director, Anna Bishop.

The following write-up is compiled from my sometimes sketchy notes.

Martin Lee opened the conference by emphasising that the UK still has a vital role to play in world mission, but that role is, today, very different from what it has been in the past. He reminded mission leaders that they needed to listen to other voices, including the voices from the margins.

We then had three short presentations from leaders representing different parts of the world. Peter Rowan of OMF, who is from the west; Louisa Evans of All Nations Christian College, who is Malaysian; and Israel Oluwole Olofinjana of Woolwich Central Baptist Church, who is Nigerian.

Peter Rowan – OMF International

Imperatives for missional connectiveness

Peter began by reflecting on the imperative of listening. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this, ‘The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them.’ So, the first service we owe to mission is to listen to others.

Revelation opens with prophetic messages – the instruction at the end of each message is to all the churches, ‘Whoever has ears let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches’. No single church/mission organisation has a monopoly on the Spirit or the word.

We should make sure that we don’t concentrate so much on what we are doing that we miss what God is doing in the world. We need to listen to voices on the margins. Those places where we used to serve are where God is at work.

The deep spiritual sickness afflicting the rich north might actually be healed when the voices from the other world are heard and understood – David W Smith.

The imperative of unity

‘Jesus calls the church to missional effectiveness by working for unity’ – Ross Hastings

Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel – see Ephesians. So what are the social implications of the Gospel of reconciliation? What does this mean for our evangelism and our mission?

Paul wrote to the Romans, wanting to involve those congregations in his mission to Spain. They had to cooperate with each other before they could cooperate with Paul on his mission. They had to love Christians beyond one small circle.

Our churches need to address our attitudes to each other, and our patronising attitudes to the churches in the majority world.

Seeking to maintain Gospel integrity and the unity of the church are not mutually exclusive goals.

The imperative of radical acts of service

Sometimes it takes a radical act for people to start listening to each other.

On July 1st 1997. Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty. In contrast to the pomp and ceremony, the pastors of six congregations held a foot washing service at St Andrews church.

‘Rev. John Aldis, senior pastor of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church – the largest English-speaking congregation in Hong Kong – wept as he read a statement of repentance to Chinese pastor Jonathan Chan. Speaking as a representative of Britain to the Hong Kong Chinese people, Aldis asked for forgiven ess for “our injustice, our pride and our isolation.”’ – Read the full story on OMF’s website

Followers of Jesus are called to take courageous steps to embody the gospel. This needs to start with mission leaders, between churches and between agencies. Are there missional connections of a peacemaking kind that need to begin, even here, today?

Louisa Evans – All Nations

In an Asian culture, there is…

A holistic view of Christianity

This applies to the whole family – Family orientation in the global south means that once saved, the saved person will not stop praying for the family. Acts 16:31

The whole nation

The whole person

The spirit man – we live in a context where spiritual encounters are commonplace. Yet some of Louisa’s most common spiritual encounters were in London. The devil is alive and well in the UK but few Christians in the UK believe in the work of him and know what to do.

Suffering

Louisa had to go to church secretly for two years because of parents (non-religious Buddhists). When she did tell them she had become a Christian she only went to church when they allowed her to.

The freedom to worship is not appreciated here in the UK.

One M man’s father tried to kill him in his sleep. In Malaysia, Allah is claimed for Muslims only. Christians cannot read the Bible in their own language because of this.

One Christian pastor was kidnapped in broad daylight – and the police said that they had no information about what happened.

What should be our response?

We need to pray – but our assumption is that persecution is out there and not here. Can we continue to assume that?

The opposition that we see is a reminder that this world is not our home and suffering for our faith is a reminder that we live in the end times.

She also reflected on the fact that often, when we pray for persecuted Christians, we pray for ‘them’. Shouldn’t we think about the language we use when we pray for our brothers and sisters?

Friendship as a way forward

Friendship in mission is the only way forward. It’s true that Global South Christians were looked down upon. But now, some global south Christians have built up their own superiority.

We need to acknowledge our mutual need of each other.

Move from a posture of learning from to learning with. This is only possible if we are friends, so we need to ask how can we build true cross-cultural friendships.

We need to be intentional in the building of cross-cultural friendships.

Frequently, coffee breaks and meal tables at Christian events in the UK are segregated. To build cross-cultural friendships we need to do the uncomfortable thing of reaching out to those who are different to us, this that are from different cultures. Not just nationalities, but those of different statuses.

  • As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. – John 13:35

Israel Oluwole Olofinjana – Woolwich Central Baptist Church

Learning from the Global South, he would prefer the term ‘Majority world’.

We need to learn from people in other continents, but we can also learn from those that have come to the UK. And this doesn’t mean that people from the global south have it sorted.

Building bridges and tunnels in our relationship

Relationship is very, very important. We have to be intentional in our networking. Who are your closest friends? Are they people like you?

We need to build both bridges and tunnels. Bridges are obvious, tunnels aren’t. The tunnels are the times behind the scenes. Can we eat together? Can we sit and relax together? It is when we relax together that we work things out. Our friendships should not be reduced to activities.

Turning our ideas into reality

There’s been talk about the centre of gravity of Christianity having shifted, this talk can remain as lip service. How has that informed and shaped our practices? How does it inform and shape how we do things?

Be intentional in our organisations to reflect the Global Church

We need to look at how our structures can change to reflect the reality.

Having one or two people from the global south in our structures is good, but we shouldn’t stop there.

We also need to read books by global south practitioners. We need to listen to their ideas.

Martin Lee – Global Connections

The world is a different place – even our maps were down by people from the north and west.

The old power blocks are changing. We are seeing the rise of nationalism and the rise of religious fanaticism.

The global church is still in a time of transition. Europe and North America is no longer the place of power.

If you are Pentecostal – you are probably young, female, poor and from either Africa, Asia or South America, and you are the real face of world Christianity today.

We look at our falling church attendance and see churches that have abandoned global mission, and usually operate from a come and see point-of-view.

There is a vital role for global mission in the UK church – it’s just a different role to what it used to be. God hasn’t asked us to abandon his call. The issue is that it needs to be different.

What could it look like:

Even in a globalised world there are many places where Christ is not known or not heard

There are a large number of Christians in Asia compared to 100 years ago, but as a percentage of population it is very small at just 8%

There are still vast numbers of people in the Middle East, Asia and Central Asia who have not heard of Christ. There aren’t Christians in Saudi because you are killed.

Yet 85% of Christian mission is aimed at other Christians. We are still trying to sustain the growth of churches in Africa, Asia and South America. Many Hindus and Buddhists still don’t know a Christian.

What abmiddle-classlass Buddhists in Japan? It’s still difficult to raise support for those working in business communities.

In an urbanised world people are everywhere, and we need to be going and telling them.

Places where Christ is not known

There are more people alive today that do not know of Christ or who have ever met a Christian. We cannot ignore this and something needs to change

Is ensuring we serve the hard places a key part of the UK Church’s strategy?

How can we genuinely partner with the church in the global south?

‘We need to tackle our inherent national pride. We need to shift that we need more from the global south.’

‘British Christians prayed for revival and when it came they did not recognise it because it was black.’

It’s hard for a westerner – we are used to power and money. Our response is that we’ve got all the resource. So maybe we try to assimilate others into our structures. And that makes us look like we are doing well. Yet it’s often the structures that get in the way of us reaching the hard to reach places.

‘Much of the Muslim world is hostile to Christian witness; the forms of mission that we have been used to for generations won’t work in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait – we need creative approaches to have access in these situations.

Not only that, but much of the Muslim world is hostile to people from Western countries; let’s face it, we’ve not done much to win their friendship over the last few decades. However, the church is no longer mainly Western; perhaps it is a generation of Chinese, Philippine, African and Latin believers who will take the Gospel to the Muslim world.

Lastly in the heightened antagonistic atmosphere of the early 21 century, witnessing to Jesus in the Muslim world can be a dangerous enterprise. People have died taking the Gospel into the Muslim world and in all likelihood it will cost the lives of many more believers before we see large numbers of Muslims coming to Christ. We need a generation of Christians who believe in something bigger than their own lives, who are willing to live and work in hostile situations, perhaps seeing very little tangible fruit for their work and who are willing ultimately to lay down their lives. In a risk averse, litigious society it is hard to find people and organisations willing to put lives on the line in this way, but it must be done.’ – kouya.net

Global south missionaries are not using our structures and systems but they are taking the gospel with them. They tend to come from less affluent countries and understand poverty and suffering, and don’t come from a background of global dominance.

So how do we partner with them?

Mutual respect and collaboration

We need to be flexible and bent out of shape. There’s no magic formula for partnership.

What place does the western church and mission movements have as part of the new worldwide church?

Can the church engage in the mission of God in new ways?

‘Together we can be a new community – 100 places learning from each other, with no one single centre or single type of mission activity’ – Andrew Walls

What does a learning relationship look like?

God is interested in character as we transition leadership

It comes down to our character and how god has changed us.

In the majority world we often see more prayer, depth in relationships, etc. Yes, there are issues even here. The church in the global south is sinful, just as we are in the west.

However, there’s a huge contrast in the spiritual poverty of the churches in the west to those in the majority world.  The western church could be described as ‘one inch wide and not even an inch deep’.

Where’s the power of god in my life and my dependency on him?

The UK church needs to have more commitment to prayer. a discovery of a deeper spirituality. We can learn much of this from global south churches. Prayer and fasting is a normal part of a church congregation.

We need a dose of radical discipleship and service ourselves. We need to learn.

Integrity

Whatever we do, God is ultimately interested in the character of us. Integrity is key. Whatever plans, strategies, meetings… God is interested in our integrity and faithfulness.

John the Baptist ‘I must decrease that he may increase’

Nothing is more important than God’s mission.

As the power base in the church transitions, the west no longer has power, only influence. Let’s influence through character, not misuse of power.

Can the UK church become a christlike in it’s attitudes, thinking or others more than ourselves.

Thame Hustings

I’ve never been to a hustings event before. It’s when local candidates turn up to answer questions in the run-up to an election. We had five candidates:

  • John Howell – Conservative and local MP since 2008.
  • Oliver Kavanagh – Labour, currently works as a lawyer.
  • Laura Coyle – Liberal Democrats, currently works as a housing solicitor.
  • Robin Bennett – Green Party, guitarist for St Etienne (one of the bands that got me through university) and The Dreaming Spires. Also mentioned during the course of the evening that he’s a school governor and wife works in NHS.
  • Patrick Gray – Radical Party, who didn’t say much about what he does now, but you can read it here. This is the first election where they are fielding a candidate.
  • The UKIP candidate was unable to make it.

The event was billed as a Question Time style event, with questions coming from the audience and candidates being given the opportunity to respond.

I took as many notes as I could but was typing on my phone and couldn’t keep up with everything, but here are some highlights:

Question on funding for schools 

There seemed to be some doubt as to whether the Conservatives pledge to increase funding would actually work out, especially when population increases were taken into consideration. Lib Dems and Labour were pledging a funding increase. Green Party candidate gave a good response based on first hand experience as a school governor.

Radical Party gave some interesting statistics but also pointed out that we shouldn’t be following the US systems on education, but looking to learn from Scandinavian and German systems.

Question around the issue that, for the first time in years, the UK child mortality rate has increased

Conservatives said that we are still sorting out the Labour mess and that getting us out of the deficit was the priority. Greens, Labour and Liberal candidates were all able to say from direct experience, that the current system isn’t working, Liberals mentioning that as a housing lawyer she sees the first hand effects on families as a result of these cost cutting measures.

Radical Party candidate says that we rank 22 out of 24 on equality and it’s the people that don’t have a voice that suffer most. Also pointed out that our economic crisis was not caused by our spending but by our money being gambled by traders in London and New York – yet the ones paying are those at the bottom of the tree.

Question: How can Teresa May be trusted with Policing when she’s overseen a cut of 20,000 police officers. 

Conservatives are concentrating on moving Police from the kind of roles that deal with crimes like burglary, where incidents are decreasing, to surveillance and intelligence roles.

Lib Dems say that community Police are needed to build trust within communities and gain the intelligence.

Labour wanted to be judged on their values of compassion, rather than on the misquoting of figures by Diane Abbott

Greens questioned why we’d trade with Saudi Arabia where there are links to terrorists.

Radical Party said that the public wouldn’t cut the number of Police.

Question on the future of EU migrants, from one who has lived here for 36 years working in the NHS

Conservatives say that they are pushing for a reciprocal agreement for British living overseas, but this won’t happen until we start negotiations over Brexit deal.

All other parties basically said that they should guarantee the rights of those already living here and not use them as a bargaining chip in the upcoming negotiations. The Radical Party went as far as to point out that young people are a huge asset to this party, and the Green candidate noted that for many young people they have grown up as EU citizens, it’s part of their identity.

Liberals pointed out that 10% of our doctors come fro the EU.

There was a question on affordable housing

Current ‘affordable housing’ is not affordable.

There was broad recognition that more joined up thinking was needed.

How will you help refugees

Conservatives are prioritising those in Syria.

Liberals pledge 50000 over the next five years and say that we should be proud to be helping. They also want a 28 day limit on people being put in detention centres.

Labour cannot shy away from our commitment to refugees

Greens, that decency and morality are key values and we should live up to these.

Radicals, we owe a lot to previous generations of refugees and we do owe something to our government for what they do overseas. We also need to collaborate more with international groups.

 

Then there were closing statements:

Labour guy said that we have an important national choice. Though, he was clearly campaigning to come second.

Radicals said that all the problems stem from those that have the power, that government needs reform.

Greens pointed out that we are the world’s second biggest arms dealer and yet we can’t help refugees or support the vulnerable. Community is one of their central themes.

Conservatives are proud of what they have done for the economy and the NHS.

Liberals want to send a message that there was a vote on EU membership, not a vote on how we would leave. They are open and tolerant.

 

What do I think:

John Howell is a smart guy. The Conservatives clearly think that they still have to sort out the debt before they can start spending seriously on all the local programmes that we need. To be fair, I’m impressed by how calm he was given that the Conservatives were clearly not the popular party this evening.

Oliver Kavanagh gave a good performance for Labour. I was disappointed that he was so clearly fighting for second place in the local election as this is such a safe Tory seat. Even if that’s what you think, you don’t say it. He clearly cares about the local community, which is good to see.

Laura Coyle was the most passionate of the bunch. Not just in the prepared bits at the beginning and end, but also when talking about local services and the needs of the community.

Robin Bennett gave a fine performance for the Greens. They seem to have lost some of the truly mad policies of the last election campaign and have some realistic ideas for this one. I was really impressed at how well he spoke on issues of schooling and health.

Patrick Gray did well for the Radical Party, they’ve got some really good ideas and know why they are standing. It was useful to have his clear, well thought out views tonight.

Pray for the media *today*

Today is the day of prayer for all those involved in the media, so please give some time to praying for those that work in this industry today. If you’re short of ideas of what to pray, take a look at The Media Net website.

While you’re at it, could you also pray for those of us that work in the media teams of mission organisations? Large and small, we have the privilege of a wonderful story to tell, the story of what God is doing in this world.

Pray that we would do this job well, for the glory of God. That we would steer clear from hyperbole and exaggeration and that we would be kept safe and healthy, especially when we travel.

Thank you

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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36930260

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’