Beyond the bait and switch of affinity and shared interest groups

There is a popular move to develop ‘affinity groups’ in church, i.e make relationships around shared interests, and to then tag on something spiritual, like praying for each other.  There’s nothing new in this approach, for the Anglican church opened its church halls post World War II to judo, and table tennis.  Churches often host world cup socials today, run cafe spaces, skateboard parks etc.

A common problem however is that the logic of the shared interest takes over and dominates the relationships.  People want to meet in a cafe, or pub to talk about Christianity but don’t want to practice or become Christians.  Or we end up with a bait and switch, the beer drinking group suddenly have prayer forced on them.  Or as happened in the UK, people think churches are spaces for judo, table tennis and girl guides, and not to experience God and become part of his people.

There are some more sophisticated approaches like ‘Activate’ by Searcy and Thomas.  My own church is exploring how we can make more of affinity groups, to grow the relational fringe of our church.

That’s one method of connection, but how does the practice of that shared interest become a discipleship process? Or to put it another way, that shared interest already has a ton of commitments and theological concerns with in it, how do you surface and engage with those?

My friend Andy Campbell made this D.Min project about beer. It explores not using beer as a ruse to get people together, but to use the process of beer making itself as a process for discipleship and christians formation.

How this might be extended to other shared interests and affinities seems a ripe field of investigation.  I’m hoping Andy Campbell will take on that challenge!

Worship: what’s shaping you?: I’m speaking LICC 21st October - London

I’m speaking at the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity on Monday night 21st October.

My working title is ‘Worship: what’s shaping you?’.  Blurb for what I’ll be talking about is below.

What stories, habits and practices make you who you are?

"We all live out of a set of what philosopher Charles Taylor calls ‘social imaginaries’ – ways of seeing ourselves and others which shape what we value and how we live in the world. Our desires and dreams are framed by certain ‘stories’ about what life should be like – preferably involving a nice house, untroubled relationships, and a secure job. And some of today’s most persuasive cultural drivers– capitalism and consumerism – can incline us to co-opt the Christian faith and church life as convenient ‘resources’ in this quest for fulfilment.

But what if worship – in the gathered church and in everyday life – was strong enough to reorientate our desires? What would such worship look like? How might habits and practices grounded in the gospel and nurtured in relationship with others train us to live differently in the world?

Join Jason Clark for an exploration of how worship re-narrates our lives, forms our identity, and equips us to take part in God’s mission in the world. Jason is married to Bev, and they are the senior leaders of Vineyard Church, Sutton. They also serve as area Leaders for London Vineyard churches. Currently completing PhD research on the church and consumer culture, Jason speaks regularly at church conferences and colleges in the UK, Europe and the US.”

Jesus Didn't Journal | Leadership Journal

journalling spiritual

Great short piece by Nancey Ortberg on the need for a multi-dimentional approach to spirituality.

And in that moment on Half Moon Bay, it was like every verse I had ever read, every Bible story I ever heard of his goodness, burst forth alive inside of me at a cellular level. I wanted to shout and be silent at the same time.

Meanwhile, my contemplative husband was throwing up over the side of the boat. What for me was an encounter with God was for him an exercise in misery….Joy. Celebration. Gratitude. These experiences approach nuclear levels of power in connecting some people with God. They count. Just like Contemplation. Solitude. Prayer.” 

Why God allows us to be Lonely (Five Minute Friday) | James Prescott

Summer holidays, the time to rest, relax and be with friends.  I wonder how often it become like Christmas, also a time to take stock and realise where we are in life and where we wish we were.

In other words a season for connecting with others, might be a season for realising our disconnection from others?  James Prescott has written this lovely short post about loneliness and God’s purposes in that experience.

'Wrath of God' Keeps Popular Worship Song Out of 10,000-Plus Churches


Issues of the atonement are still very much in focus for Christians, see this article in Christianity Magazine.

"The word that got "In Christ Alone" booted from a Presbyterian hymnal was not wrath (which is “all over the hymnal”), but satisfied, according to a thorough update reported by The Tennessean. (The hymnal committee offersits own clarification.)”

Autographer: Wearable Tech is on the rise

I have a device I wear on my wrist, it wakes me up with a vibrating alarm, and records my exercise and moods.  Wearable tech is on the rise, and is set to be the next big thing in technology.

Just released is Autographer, the wearable automatic camera.  It takes continuous hands free images, that you can then review and edit later on.

For some of my students I can see how this would be great for Visual Ethnography, recording an immersive experience, without having to hold a camera during interactions.

Also great for holidays and capturing moments you might otherwise miss.

But with the never ending rise of putting everything on facebook, its a new privacy nightmare.  We will have to learn some social etiquette for those times we do not want to be recorded.

Wearable tech means opting out rather than opting in, as we currently do with taking photos and videos.

Rachel Giles has written this interesting reflection on this new development for the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity.

Marriage FAQ in light of same sex couples act 2013

The Evangelical Alliance have produced this very helpful guide to the legal implications of the new same sex couples act 2013 for Christians and churches in the UK.

We are all Wonga now: Joining Welby’s war on usury

Luke Bretherton responds to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s criticism of pay day loans and the revelations that the Church of England has been invested in some of those same companies.  

Article is online at ABC.

Archbishop of Canterbury tells payday loans companies: Church wants to put you out of business

The new Archbishop of Canterbury made some waves the Church of England wants to put pay day loans companies out of business.

We’ve seen the rise in food-banks from all sections of the church in the UK. I hope we see a similar partnership by churches for credit unions in the future, as the Church of England take a lead in this for us.

Global Leadership Perspectives Conference: London Sept 28th

George Fox Seminary, in partnership with The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, Evangelical Alliance UK, and Vineyard Churches, are bringing together some of the people who best embody and live out GlobalLleadership. We will convene in the heart of London on Saturday, 28 September from 10am to 4pm.

You are invited to interact with these leaders as they share their understanding of emerging trends in leadership and what they see as the defining issues and skills needed for today’s leaders.

Presentations will be short and to the point, with time for conversations and questions with the speakers. Bring observations about your context and specific challenges into contact with these leaders, so that you might be better equipped as a leader.

Register Online

Find Out More

Our Presenters include:

Martyn Percy

Martyn Percy, Principal of Ripon College Cuddesdon and the Oxford Ministry Course

David Male

The Reverend David Male, Director of the Centre for Pioneer Learning in Cambridge

Faith Ngunjiri

Dr. Faith Ngunjiri, Director, Lorentzsen Center for Faith and Work, & Associate Professor of Leadership and Ethics at Offutt School of Business, Concordia College

Marykate Morse

Dr. MaryKate Morse, Professor of Leadership and Spiritual Formation at George Fox Evangelical Seminary

Krish Kandiah

Dr Krish Kandiah, Executive Director for Churches in Mission and England at the Evangelical Alliance UK

Shawn Holtzclaw

Shawn Holtzclaw, Managing Director/President of Equifax UK & Ireland (a position he has held since May 2010)

Sponsored by:


New review Church in the Present Tense: A Candid Look at What’s Emerging

Theology Journal, are carrying a review of ‘Church in the Present Tense’, in which I wrote two chapters.  The review makes mention of my writing.

You can download the review here.

On God’s Side (3 September 2013)

"My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side."
Abraham Lincoln

Following the launch of his latest book, On God’s Side, best-selling author Jim Wallis joins LICC on 3 September for an evening discussing the ancient and compelling vision of “the common good.”

A vision that should influence and inspire not only our politics but our personal lives, families, churches and neighbourhoods, and our vocational and financial choices.

“It is these individual and communal choices,” writes Wallis, “which will ultimately create the cultural shifts and social movements that really change politics in the long run.” 

Book now to guarantee your place.

How salvation became private

A large part of my PhD research explores how Evangelical understandings of salvation within capitalist contexts, migrated into current privatised Christians practices.  These instrumentalised versions of Christian faith are now almost completely separate from any understanding of, and participation in Church.   

So this quote from Barth caught my attention this week;

"It was an intolerable truncation of the Christian message when the older Protestantism steered the whole doctrine of the atonement-and with it, ultimately, the whole of theology-into the cul de sac of the question of the individual experience of grace, which is always an anxious one when taken in isolation, the question of individual conversion by it and to it, and of its presuppositions and consequences. The almost inevitable result was that the great concepts of justification and sanctification came more and more to be understood and filled out psychologically and biographically, and the doctrine of the Church seemed to be of value only as a description of the means of salvation and grace indispensable to this individual and personal process of salvation….Our theme is the reconciliation of the world with God in Jesus Christ, and only in this greater context the reconciliation of the individual man. This is what was completely overlooked in that truncation. And if it is to be brought to light again, the prior place which the Christian individual has for so long- we might almost say unashamedly-claimed for himself in the dogmatics of the Christian community must be vacated again. We must not cease to stress the individual. We must not throw doubt on the importance of his problem. But!

Only in the proper place. The “pillar and ground of truth” ( 1 Tim. 315), the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the city set on a hill, is the community of God and not the individual Christian as such, although the latter has within it his assured place, his indispensable function, and his unshakable personal promise. It is not he but the ecclesia una sancta catholica et apostolica [note] that stands (in close connexion with the Holy Spirit) in the third article of the Creed. It is the Church which with its perception and experience of the grace of God stands vicariously for the rest of the world which has not yet partaken of the witness of the Holy Spirit. It is the Church which in this particularity is ordained to the ministry of reconciliation and the witness of the grace of God in relation to the rest of the world. “

Dogmatics IV.I, Bromiley trans., section 58.4

Is religion good for your cat or dog?

Mr. Rowland Hill used to say that a man was not a true Christian if his dog and his cat were not the better off for it. That witness is true”, Charles Spurgeon.

Given I have two dogs, both rescued, I’ve long been interested in the intersection of faith and animal welfare.  I suspect that for most western Christians animal welfare comes after the environment.  

By that I think most Christians would consider the environment important but pay it no attention day to day in their actions, overwhelmed by the pressure of life in the 21st century.  Similarly with animals such that beyond a general concern, any attention to animal welfare comes way down the list of focused interactions for Christians.

The Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics is one of the few places, focused on these kinds of issue.  This new project by them looks interesting for those with an interest in faith and animal welfare.


"Inspired by Baptist Preacher Charles Surgeon’s claim that a person cannot be a true Christian if his dog or cat is not the better off for it, the Centre will explore whether religious traditions are animal-friendly.  The questions to be addressed include whether religious people and religious institutions benefit animals? Are they more or less likely to be respectful to animals – either those kept as companions or those used for other human purposes?

The project is being organised by the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. It will be multidisciplinary, multifaith, and draw in not only theologians and religious thinkers, but also other academics including social scientists, psychologists, historians, and criminologists.  “We want to know whether religion makes any difference for animals”, says Oxford theologian, Professor Andrew Linzey, who is Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.  “We often hear of how religion is detrimental to human rights, but is it also detrimental to animal protection?”

More information see here.

My extend review of James K.A.Smith, Imagining the Kingdom


I’ve written an extended review of Jamie Smith’s, Imagining the Kingdom for the Church and Pomo blog at the Other Journal.

About me

trying to make safe spaces for diverse and healthy conversations about church, culture, mission, theology and motorbikes

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