Get your tent and pitch it for a while…a flexible model for mission

It is the time of year when tented cities at festivals appear all over the UK and families take to living under the hallowed canvas, normally in the UK as with this year to shelter from the rain. But the glory of camping is the flexibility to pitch our tent at will to become a temporary home. My family have had our main holiday under canvas for the past consecutive 8 years and as a regular festival goer for years before that and even having walked the West Highland Way with just a tent on my back I have appreciated the benefits of camping.

I used to think that we needed new models of church and innovation in mission that was something like scaffolding being put up around our old church buildings so that if they did crumble one day there would still be something standing in their place.

Now I’m not so sure,

I think we need still need the scaffolding approach in some places but if that is our only plan then I fear for the future of mission in the UK. For a start scaffolding is only ever going to be in the same place as our existing churches, whether they are physical buildings or communities of interest. Also those scaffolds will take the same shape and form of the existing buildings they are attempting to replace even though they will be made of newer materials, which may also not be as long lasting – give me a house made from stone any day over a temporary metal one.

At this point please also excuse my metaphor for churches based on buildings as I firmly advocate that a church is the community of people who comprise it, not the bricks and mortar that they meet in however useful a resource that might be.

In the “Foundation Series” by Isaac Asimov, Asimov paints the picture of a whole civilisation and how it moves through some significant crisis points where it could either become extinct or flourish, fade out or become reenergised. I have often heard, and used myself, in sermons about the Chinese symbol for “crisis” being two symbols meaning both “danger” and “opportunity”.

Crisis - Danger and Opportunity2

There has been lots of research highlighting the crisis in decay of church attendance in the UK and although there are some areas of growth and new congregations, a larger part of the established church and wider denominations still seems to be declining or at best staying static. The church as we know it is in great danger, but that brings with it great opportunity.

A lot is at stake and many of those of us who attend church and enjoy the structure that we have grown up with struggle as we are disorientated that the current status quo is not sustainable for the long term. I believe we do need those existing structures, I’m an active member of my local church, but we also need those scaffolding type churches too, some of which might be temporary, others that could become new established churches, but in order to engage in real mission especially with young people and with those who have not been a part of the church we need to go into new places we and they haven’t been to before, becoming more of a tented community leaving our rigid building materials behind for a time.

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In Frontier Youth Trust we use a quote from Donavan, “in working with young people do not call them to where they were and do not call them to where you are as beautiful a place as they may seem to you. You must have the courage to go with them to a new place that neither you nor they have been before”

Walter Bruggemann talks about the 3 stages of where we are in our faith or: Orientation, Disorientation and Re-Orientation. (Nigel Pimlott succinctly covers this in his book Youth Work After Christendom, p49-50). The sense of disorientation that we feel can be described in the way that we sense the danger we are in but often aren’t able to take the opportunity to leap into another paradigm of mission as in a process of reorientation our thoughts and concepts are not fully formed – feel intangible or difficult to visualise.

Therefore people of faith at the moment experience that disorientation as we experience a world outside of the church that is moving away from where we are at a velocity faster that we can keep up with and the distance we need to travel in meaningful mission continues to grow. We are therefore living in a time of Faith in Transition and we need to explore ways that we move from church to mission. Just as in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series we are experiencing multiple crises which are moments of great danger but also great opportunity.

When Christianity or the church has been in crisis in the past there have sometimes been revivals in faith. The Welsh revival of 1904 was one of those revivals, along with others, that were youth led. A colleague Richard Passmore ( @richardpassmore) shared with me the words of the Welsh Youth Poet Laureate who has prompted him and me to think around the phrase he used,

“We call the walls to dust”

I love the image this statement paints, the idea of shredding to dust that which separates us. Many young people face ever taller and thicker walls and equally as I lead Frontier Youth Trust (FYT) which is a dispersed community of faith based youth workers we need to pay attention to the walls between us. We continue to seek shalom as expressed in Ephesians 2v14.

Skate Park Art resize

At a time when young people seem to be under attack by society and when the UK government are removing benefits and opportunities from the under 25s in a significant manner, how do we live as a learning community with young people and offer them hope?

Do we only invite young people to be part of a slightly more energetic version of what we already have or how dangerous are we going to be with our mission? Unless we hold our mission lightly we will always be pulled back to the conventional model by a gravitational pull that we are unable to reach escape velocity.

We have been talking in FYT about the need to enable the translators of mission. In doing so we want to release the interpreters who can journey with those young people and help them to reimagine and redefine the terms that are cultural while still seeking the Kingdom and pointing to the person of Jesus and building community.

So at a time when as a nation we choose canvas as a place to live under even temporarily, will we move to a camping model of mission away from our scaffolding and building model of mission?

Streetspace Gathering 2015

I’m only just back from the StreetSpace Gathering 2015 and my tent is still drying in the garage while another participant has already composed some thoughts on the weekend. Worth reading …

Learning from the Streets

Imagine if you will the following:

A Field in Derbyshire, on a small community farm

13 tents, two marquees and a shelter

4 portaloos, and 2 showers that needed people outside the door to adjust the temperature.

A fire

A mobile Pizza Van courtesy of Rustic Pizza’s

2 BBQ’s

35 People, some youthworkers, project leaders, volunteers, new junior leaders, some children.

Now imagine that with all of those contingents, a conference was held;

Imagine a conference, where the attendees decided what the main themes were

and where thats what was actually discussed in sessions- so themes such as;

Homelessness, Management skills, politics, change management, age transitions, philosophy of  youthwork, Hope

imagine that these sessions were well attended by people who decided on them.

imagine the energy that created

imagine how it felt that people created actions out of that energy and passion

imagine how many ideas might have been ignored…

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There is no path

There are no easy answers but it helps to share with others who are asking questions as they live through their own experiences.
I found this really helpful with my own.

Run for your life


This week is the anniversary of my dad’s death and so, unsurprisingly, over the last few weeks I have had many moments of thinking ‘this time last year…’ and a reliving of the end of his life.

I have been reading Edward Hirsch’s beautiful poem Gabriel, which tells the story of the life and death of his adopted son. It’s a raw, profoundly human work which has been described as a masterpiece of sorrow. It’s a poem without punctuation which meant that often I realised that I had read the lines wrongly and would need to go back and put a pause or an emphasis in a different place. This style fits the subject so well because reading about the death of a man in his twenties should not be smooth or easy; it seems right that it’s halting and complex.

He says

‘I did not know that the…

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A Middle Aged Dad in Limbo

Boys Will Be Boys?

It is a bit of a cliché but it is not unusual to talk about small boys pulling legs off spiders. However, for a young boy to do it in an 18 rated video game as he relentlessly searches through the underworld of Limbo for his lost sister, isn’t a stereotype. Being killed by a monster sized spider among many other manner of gruesome ways and resurrected countless times, now that is something that is less familiar… certainly to me anyway.

Neither of my two boys like to kill spiders. We are a “glass on paper and out the back door” type of family. So it would be fair to say that as I progressed through the dark world of Limbo I have jumped out of my seat several times as something lurking comes out of the gloom to end the Limbo Boy’s life in a dreadful way. It was hard as a dad of two boys to play this game and my feelings went from slight tension to nerve wracking responsibility as I guiding him safely past deadly puzzles. I have literally seen the whole world turn upside down during the game, made worse by the looming revving saw blades and a combination of gravity and inertia making deadly close encounters inevitable.

So why did I put myself through this whole experience if I found it such a challenge to negotiate? It started with a conversation about the nature of spiritually in computer and console gaming and after meeting Andy Robertson (@GeekDadGamer). I was very excited about the possibility of exploring the nature of this and especially how young people can have an awareness of God’s spirit within gaming rather than take everything on a superficial level. I wanted to explore the meaning within gaming and so I was challenged to enter that world on my own without a safety net and my experience was very profound.

As a relative rookie to gaming, I haven’t played a lot of console games other than when participating in a youth work session. As a family we have mainly played multiplayer games like Guitar Hero and Mario Karts. However apart from the odd app on my phone as a single player I have a definite experience deficiency and distinct lack of ability.

Limbo Swing

Limbo: Playdead, Microsoft Game Studios (XBLA)

Playing something that is such a different paradigm from Angry Birds or Solitaire has been monumental for me. Aside from how many stars I got in a level didn’t really care about the pigs or birds however angry they were but the impact of my time in Limbo was immersive for me. The outcome of this game has led to me being emotionally entwined with the main character boy’s quest. The result is that after several hours of navigating Limbo, I almost feel in loco parentis of this small virtual person. With his piercing refulgent, shining eyes that stare hauntingly into the darkness, I cared about the outcome of the game – this thing I was involved mattered to me way more than any throwaway app.

There were times during the game that I simply had to take a break as I didn’t want to keep putting him (or me) through the pain of playing. My empathy of feeling his pain reminds me that I got laughed off the sofa as I started to cry at the end of the film A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) My emotional attachment was as real for a robot boy at the end of that film as it would have been for a human boy. The game connected me with the fatherhood of God and I couldn’t suppress the compassion that I believe is integral to who we are as created human beings.

Limbo has taught me patience and a relentless perseverance as the boy continues to seek his sister lost in the midst of a dark world. His redemption relies on her salvation and until she is free neither could he be free. I am not by nature a patient person and the process of going back into a puzzle again and again to progress has been refining for me. This relentless seeking is something I need to develop myself as the alternative of accepting easy answers and not tackling the real issues is a real temptation for my faith. In the game Limbo not seeking an answer or continuing to journey however hard would result in staying trapped in the same place for ever. I hope the process has left me more patient and tenacious as when I finally did work out how to get past those difficult parts, especially the end of the game, I felt so elated at the breakthrough, something perhaps I can best relate to my worship in my outside life after reaching the top of a particularly hard climb on my bike or when I have completed a Marathon. Not things I can do in church but experiences when I have felt God near.

Without spoiling the final sequence, as I reached the end of the game Limbo, I was reminded of my own baptism and sense of cleansing followed by a peace that was reminiscent of Psalm 23 and lying down in green pastures. For me this echoes the thought that after the struggle comes rest, while also the journey is significant and the process of reaching a destination can be more important than actually reaching it. Something I can relate to in my own spiritual journey as I have continued to seek community within relationships of meaning.

For a number of years I have pursued the mission of going into the world of culture to look for and to point out things that look like the Kingdom of God or reflect the teachings of Jesus. Even in the darkest of places I believe that as we have been created to have a spiritual connection in community and with others there are surprises all around us if we only but look.

I have grown in my faith during this process as I feel this has been an exercise in reclaiming a ritual to have a spiritual meaning that in some schools of thought is a way of connecting the ordinary to the remarkable, the superficial to the significant.
I have found this process quite a refining, if difficult, exercise but now I have to be brave and take the next step. I can’t but help wonder where playing this game will take me to. How do I facilitate others to explore a game that has meaning as well as gameplay that could be a mutual learning and developing exercise? If this game really meant something to me, how can I help others to go deeper than just the superficial level where most remain?

Alastair Jones


Are you a glass half full or half empty person?

The recent Olympics and Paralympics have been so impressive and the sight of British athletes from all disciplines and abilities achieving unprecedented success is something as a nation we have become unaccustomed to.

The optimistic mood of the nation has been such during the summer games that now they have finished people have talked about a gargantuan slump or crash maybe 10 times more significant than when January dampens the mood of a nation after Christmas. As a sports fan I find it hard to be optimistic, always expecting the last minute equaliser (when winning) or to lose on the home straight. I don’t know why I’m not optimistic for in sport but it’s partly about supporting Brighton as a child and 11 years as Man City fan since living here, being British and being born after 1966.

Fortunately for me, being optimistic and being hopeful are two very different things though.

Miroslav Volf (A Public Faith) has a helpful gem where he explains about the difference between optimism and hope.
“(on Optimism) We survey the past and the present, extrapolate about what it likely to happen in the future, and, if the prospects are good, become optimistic.
Hope, on the other hand, has to do with good things in the future that come to us from “outside,” from God; the future associated with hope – Moltmann calls it adventus – is a gift of something new”

I’ve become excited beyond sport this summer in that the new thing that God can do from bringing a son to Sarah who was barren in Genesis, the Resurrection, or basically God doing what is not probable but is in human experience impossible. That “expectation of good things that come as a gift from God – that is hope”.

Maybe this summer has given me enough experiences (perhaps) to be a bit more optimistic in sport (We can discuss further if Aguero’s last gasp goal is of God but I may be on shaky theology there) but far more significant is something fundamental and that is a deep rooted hope in the “New Thing” that God can do. A fool can be optimistic and disproved by experience but hope in a God of love is far more sustainable and far less likely to crash in a heap when the good times finish.

So Lord, make me more hopeful and teach me the difference between Hope and Optimism.

Tribute to My Dad: Don Jones

A story is told of William Booth who was writing a sermon of encouragement to send around the world when the Salvation Army was in its early days. The message was to go by telegram and, charged by the letter, since finances were sparse all the budget could stretch to was just one word. That word that Booth came up with: … “OTHERS”.

“OTHERS” … we believe our dad devoted his life to implementing that one word sermon in pretty much all that he did. He taught us more about being unselfish than some of the great writers and activists could ever do.

From creating stories out of thin air at bedtime; devoting his love and time to all the grandchildren of whom he was so proud, creating family traditions by setting legendary birthday treasure hunts or making Donald Duck noises; he was always present in the moment with the sole exception of when he was asleep, which being honest was another regular but also loveable aspect of his character. He was renowned for the fashion icon of socks with sandals but also his bushy Caterpillar eyebrows, which he wiggled at the grand children and others to catch their attention and raise a smile.

We knew him as a man of integrity, not willing to turn a blind eye to injustice or even the most minor dishonestly. He was a man of his word and was dedicated and committed to anything he turned his hand to.

His service for others is wide and varied. He ran a swimming club with a name, “Paisley Puppies”, which would put you in jail these days. Actually it came from his humour and referred to teaching children to swim “Doggie Paddle”. In the days before health and safety he would transport up to 14 children to the pool in his estate car and taught scores of young people to swim. He also taught many children to play a musical instrument, and more recently to read at local primary schools. He was never happier in his work for the customs than when he was a welfare officer and able to provide pastoral care for others. Even after his retirement he continued to serve others as a community manager for the Salvation Army in Penge for several years.

The reality is whether he was writing to students studying away from home at university or encouraging those in his church to believe in themselves he rarely put himself first.  For the past few years he has increasingly been not only a loving husband but devoted carer for mum, with 53 years of marriage. He possibly had the benefit in later years of being able to turn his hearing aid off?

He brought joy into the room with him, even though his jokes would never earn him enough money to buy a fast car, which as his sons we know would’ve been wasted anyway. But he was rich in spirit and love. He made an art of playing the fool but always endeared himself to others when he did. He was very easy to spot in a crowd with his loud singing, clapping and laugh, we were always able to pick him out in the audience when he supported us at school concerts or am-dram productions – and we were encouraged by it.

We learnt from him how to be a dad but also how to be a man of God.

Every day of our lives we know our dad prayed for us and the rest of the family kneeling at his bedside. On Friday night we found ourselves at his bedside praying for him. It has been tough and will continue to be but we are very grateful for the rest of our family, support and prayers from friends and the huge network of people or to use Paul’s words “Cloud of Witnesses” whom dad has influenced and encouraged over his life.

Albert Einstein as one of the brightest brains ever to have lived is well known for his scientific theories but I would like to share something he said far more profound than The Theory of Relativity, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”. Using this equation of Einstein’s I don’t know a person whose life is more worthwhile than my dad’s Don Jones.

Last week after a lifetime of living for others and bringing a kingdom of love and grace to those he met our dad passed away peacefully. We believe he is now enjoying that kingdom and will enrich it with his personality.

With Love From Your Sons; Ian, Stuart & Alastair