Saturday, 31 December 2011

Top of the Pops

image courtesy of
Vectorportal Site
It's the end of the year and I thought I would sign off by listing my favourite Music, Films, Books, Photos and Videos of 2011.

Music - I started the year of consciously listening to more music as a way developing my musical appreciation, exposure and growth. As a result this is the hardest category to pick one best band/cd but I will. Before that let me mention three notable bands/Cds
Rend Collective Experiment - Organic Family Hymnal, quite simply it takes me to a place of worship which no other music does, I wrote a post about one of there song why go read it - click here
Texas - White on Blonde, an old album from 1997 but it just brilliant
Jonathan Coulton - Joco Looks Back, if you regularly go to Ikea you must listen to his track of the same name, a fabulously quirky album which I stumbled across by virtue of the social network (seeing a friend listening to it so I listened to it)
But my pick for 2011 is Listener - Wooden Heart, I wrote about coming across this band at Greenbelt and they are just amazing - click here to read my post

Films - I watch quite a few films, I secretly want to be a film critic, but I rarely get to go the cinema so my top films this year are mostly via TV\DVD.
Thor - the best superhero adaptation in my opinion- funny, fantastic, great characters and great visuals and direction - the only bad thing was I had to watch it in 3D
Sunset Boulevard - a film from 1950 with William Holden & Gloria Swanson which I just loved
The Straight Story - a wonderful story about a man on a journey to repair his relationship with his brother
Bronson - a tour de force by Tom Hardy
But my pick for 2011 is A Town Called Panic - a French stop animation film which was just wonderfully surreal. It pops up on Film4 every now and then so try and watch it you will love it.

Books - if you follow my blog you will know that I have had a list of 20 books that I wanted to read this year. Of the eleven I actually finished two stand out.
The Shack by William P. Young -  - a wonderful touching story of God meeting a man at his lowest point it is moving and challenging and made me want to see more of God
My pick for 2011 is Teams of Rivals - the story of Abraham Lincoln's remarkable life and presidency. I reviewed this book back on Feb 12th mine and Abe's birthday!


Photos - this year I have been trying to take all sorts of photos - interesting and creative ones - I'm not going to choose one that is best but I here are some of my favourites.


Videos - I love how we can be inspired, amused and touched through the visual medium, here are some of my favourites - Resurrection by Rob Bell would be my pick for 2011.
 Resurrection by Rob Bell Parallel Parking by Yum Yum London Television is a drug by Beth Fulton John & Joe by the StoryCorps

Friday, 30 December 2011

Almost the end of the year - a post of thanks

Image: c/o Charleston Primary School
This is my penultimate post of 2011 and what a year it has been. Personally it's been a year with a lot of turmoil but with some high points, one of the highs of this year has been writing this blog.

As I started my blog I shared five reasons for why I was doing this - to stretch and develop me, to serve as a sort of personal journal, to interact with people, to inspire and challenge others and to have fun. I feel in part I have done a lot to meet these and it certainly has been fun.

However, I couldn't have done it without the support of you my readers and friends, especially those who have commented on the blog, facebook, by email or in person - you have been so encouraging. I hope you will continue to journey with me (via this blog) in 2012.

What have been your highlights from my blog this year, I would love to know your thoughts.



Friday, 23 December 2011

Leadership: real people, inspiring leaders

Like most people who have worked in many jobs and in different industries I have served under and alongside many leaders, probably hundreds. I am certain that everyone of them has shaped and influenced me, for good or bad, even if I didn't realise it. So I sat down one day a while ago and spent a few minutes listing leaders I have known and one thing that I would remember them for. These are real people that I know or have known and not the 'great leaders' of platforms and books that you and I have read and heard but actually don't know.

Martin Harrison - the first person who ever led me, he particularly taught me the importance of training people properly, giving the necessary feedback and coaching and then letting them (me) make their own mistakes.

Elizabeth Gooch - an incredibly driven and focused woman who showed me the importance of getting the right people together to make a great team.

David Stroud - I worked on one of the regional teams that David led. During this time I organised a church leaders weekend. This was the first such weekend I had done and unfortunately my calculations went wrong and we were looking at a £2k loss (it ended up only losing around £200). When I shared the details with the team David simply said, "Well you won't make that mistake again". In a stroke he removed my fear and guilt and showed trust in me for the future (all my church leaders weekend since have turned a small profit!).

Tony Thompson - I led the team that organised Together@Shuttleworth in 2008 & 2009 for the regional churches he and his team oversaw. These events were a great success but on a personal and family level they were a real struggle. So after completing the 2009 event I had to step down from leading the event. Tony arranged support and care for me because in his words he felt responsible that someone from his team needed support. It was good to feel care that went beyond the confines of the role to serve and support me, the person.

Melanie Crane - I worked with Melanie over a number of years and the thing that struck me about her was the way she included and developed people. She seemed to easily gather a crowd but many people can do that. Leaders do something with the crowd, take them on, give them opportunities as see them as more than just workers but as future leaders also. This fully struck me when she was in the process of leaving her job in our church and she gave us a long list of the people who she has worked with and what they have done and what they could do.

Nic Lines - the final person I will mention here is Nic. I work alongside Nic, our youth leader and have seen him at close quarters, especially when I have been on the catering team at Newday. The thing I admire is how after inheriting a team he brought in his own style of leadership. Still a young in leadership (years) but he clearly has the ability to listen and give space to people whilst having a definite sense of what he wants to see achieved.

If you were to name leaders who have shaped your life who would be the first you would remember?

Friday, 16 December 2011

Chicken & egg = Mission & maturity?

Photograph: Dennis Novak/Getty Images
I came across an excellent article entitled Why the missional movement will fail written by Mike Breen the former Senior Rector at St. Thomas Sheffield, where he pioneered some very different ways of being the church.

In summary he is saying that missional churches and activities are great and he aligns himself fully with them BUT the foundational work of discipleship is often missed out and so ultimately these movements may not last. He says, "If you’re good at making disciples, you’ll get more leaders than you’ll know what to do with. If you make disciples like Jesus made them, you’ll see people come to faith who didn’t know Him. If you disciple people well, you will always get the missional thing. Always."

I agree with him that discipleship is not on the agenda much if at all in most churches. If you asked a sample of people from a range of churches are you being or have you been discipled I wonder what they would answer?
Apart from the discipleship of new Christians do churches have any ongoing discipleship framework? Small groups are part of the answer but just part, not the complete 'magic' answer on their own.

Discipleship is intentional, long term and hardwork, but it is the best way to build solid foundations that reap fruit 30, 60 and 100 times (Mark 4:20). Back in 1988 there was a phrase coined about "the decade of evangelism", an extended period where evangelism was sort to be put at the top of the agenda, I think we may need a focus on discipleship (for a decade?) otherwise we may just be on a mission with a lot of immature people.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Book reading update - 9 down 11 to go!

Oh dear my plan to read 20 books this year is going to require either:
1) a miracle, or
2) no sleep for the rest of the year!
Unfortunately I sort of stopped reading shortly after Easter and didn't really pick it up again much over the summer. Nevertheless I do have a few mini-reviews to update you with and a revised list of books I am going to try and get through - a new target if you like.

The world needs more elders - PJ Smyth
I had started reading this on my last update back in April! It's an excellent thought provoking book, not only is it a good tool to use for training future church leaders, but also for anybody in a church to consider a measured and biblical view of what church leaders should be focusing on. Reading it challenged me in many ways in terms of my thinking about church and leadership and I would recommend it to anyone.

The Associate - John Grisham
I really enjoy the pulp fiction nature of John Grisham books and until the last chapter this book was engaging, fast moving and a 'real page turner'. However I have never been so diappointed in the ending of one of his books, it just stopped - no suspense, no future possiblities - sorry John you need to re-write that last chapter.

Disabled Church-Disabled Society: The Implications of Autism for Philosophy, Theology and Politics – John Gillibrand
I have never read a more difficult and challenging book. Actually I still haven't because if I am honest when I got to the almost impenatrable sections I skimmed quite a bit. However, the chapter about his life with his son Adam was incredibly moving and in amongst the rest of the book there are some challenging questions. Above everything I was left to wonder, as Gillibrand does, are people like his son who has no means of communication with the 'normal' world much closer to God than we can ever be?

Persian fire: the first world empire and the battle for the West – Tom Holland
I am a massive fan of Tom Holland's award winning book Rubicon about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Alas, whilst this book no doubt was as accurate and detailed as Rubicon it seemed to me very dry. That may be in part due to the incredible complexity of the tale it tells - not only many different nations, states and cities but tribes and clans within cities and states. The most interesting part of it was finding out about the complex and very clever bureaucracy of the Persian empire, that even a duck had to have a travel pass to move along the Persian highway!

The books I want to read before the end of the year (in one month)
Making Time: Why Time Seems to Pass at Different Speeds and How to Control It – by Steve Taylor
You Can Change: God's Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behaviour and Negative Emotions – by Tim Chester
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
In total these have 610 pages, that means that on average I need to read around 30 pages per day - not a lot for an avid reader but a challenge for me! Wish me luck, and why not share what you've been reading lately?

Friday, 25 November 2011

Doppleganger update!

Just a quick blog post to make an official statement:

"Steven Hunter would like to clearly state that Not Steven Hunter of @notstevenhunter and now facebook.com/notstevenhunter is an independent voice and in no way controlled by or associated with (except through imitation) Steven Hunter."

That said, Steven Hunter would like to welcomes Not Steven Hunter onto facebook and thank him/her for their continued following of my posts and tweets - you often bring a smile to the day and that in itself is worthy of praise. I do wonder though how long before the blog Not Finger in all the Pies is up and running!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Today is amazing no matter what you see...

Recently I have been stirred by the beauty of Autumn and the sights and sounds we see all around us at this time of year. It makes me want to look at things that little bit closer.
It also reminded me of this video made by artist Jonathan Harris who on August 27th 2009 turned 30 and began a simple ritual of taking one photo every day and posting it to his website before going to sleep. I found it moving and beautiful in its wonderful simplicity, I hope you do to.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Six Things - Dan Smith

Dan Smith grew up in southern Missouri and started making music in his school band in grade 5. Dan is now the front man of Listener, who with Chris Nelson are bringing talk music to the world. Dan and Chris have been making music together since 2007, on the road and all over the world. They have put out two albums so far, Return to Struggleville & Wooden Heart.

I came across Listener at Greenbelt this year and have got well and truly hooked on their music.

One thing that's always worth getting out of bed for
The promise of a new day. I'm not a morning person in any way, but I like to just put on my positive hat about the day and it's possibilities and just get after it....happy to have another chance at trying.

One thing about yourself that often obstructs you
My love of trying please everyone.

One thing I've learned the hard way
To not wait for someone else to dictate a path for me, and that it's important to take self inventory and help others.

One thing that gets under my skin
When I hold a door for someone and they touch the door handle.

One thing I'd love to change
The idea that we are owed anything in this world simply for living in it. I think we have too much technology and comfort and ease. I'm not against it all though, I guess such is the nature of man.

One thing I hope for
Peace in this life in what I'm doing, and peace for others in their minds and hearts.

Six Things is a series of micro-interviews with interesting and creative people
in which they’re asked to respond to a standard set of six prompts.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Walking backwards

The other day I was walking into town and felt the urge to walk backwards down the hill - I know I am very much a child at heart. I only went for half a dozen or so steps but I was interested in the feelings it brought out of me.

I enjoyed being able to look back at where I had been where I had come from whilst at the same time being concerned even scared of my future destination. I wasn't fully in control of where I was going.

Turning around I was struck by a couple things.
I was now safe because I could see where I was going. However, I wasn't enjoying the view as much because I was concentrating on where I was going.
Also I couldn't really remember where I had come from, the image of the path behind me immediately faded as it went past my peripheral vision.

This speaks to me of our own personal journeys.
Most of the time we are so focused on the immediatacy of our lives as they play out in front of us that we can't enjoy the journey. On top of that we barely have any time to remember the past never mind enjoy or learn from it.

Yet walking backwards down that hill is actually what our lives are like. The only things we can be certain of are those that are in the past, "we only have what we remember"*, and the future is truly unknown. In this future we need to trust in ourselves, in others and in God that we will be safe step by step and maybe every once in a while stop, turn around and have a look at our past.

* from Wooden Heart, Listener

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Doing the right thing, the easy thing or nothing

Fork In The Road - Walnut Creek, California
(via PatrickSmithPhotography)
In our lives we come up against many forks in the road. These present us with choices, most of our choices don't make a great deal of difference. What we choose to wear each day for most of us will have little effect on the grand destiny of our lives, as much as the fashion police would beg to differ! Occasionally we have choices which clearly change our paths, as the saying goes, "nothing will be the same again".

Often these choices are between doing the right thing, as we see it, or doing the easy thing - follow the line of least resistance to pass by on the other side.

Doing the right thing can often be painful and costly, it makes us unpopular perhaps and yet along with all these negatives comes a peace in our soul.

The easy path avoids the immediate pain yet doesn't it just push the issue into the future?

Of course there is another way, one I often follow - do nothing. Don't choose, in fact ignore that the choice is there and in time the momentum of life will push you past that fork in the road and it will soon fade into the past. But the major choices in our lives come back again and again and these choices usually get harder, more difficult and more painful.

I believe that almost everyone of us is approaching a major fork in the road. If you are I pray you have the clarity and strength to do the right thing and that God will sustain you through and on that path as you walk it.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Win-win-come third

This blog 'finger in all the pies' was a finalist in the newcomers blog category. The awards ceremony at the Christian New Media Awards was last Friday night and sadly I wasn't there, I was told a few days before that I hadn't made the top two, so like the other three blogs which were finalists I am joint third!

However as I reflect on this nomination I feel I have already won in two ways.

Firstly, and most importantly I have won for me. What I mean is I have started out doing something (writing this blog) and have not only stuck at it but I am getting joy out of the exercise of writing and I know that it has challenged and stretched me.

Secondly, to have someone who doesn't know me look at my writings and think they are worthy of being put forward for an award is something that has given me a real boost. It has been like a divine yes to what I am about.

I guess my reaction to this praise shows how.much of me is really shared within this blog - as the saying goes, "love me, love my blog".

I wonder if you were to reflect on your life, is there something that you do or are connected to that is so much a part of you that you would say, "love me, love my ..."

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Six Things - Melanie Crane

Melanie Crane enjoys all the simple pleasures in life such as eating out, watching movies, taking long baths, visiting zoos, going to the beach, singing, reading, baking, and much more. Part of the dynamic duo that is Stuart & Melanie Crane, she lives in Birmingham along with their cute little son Levi.
Having worked for Clarks & the Church she knows all about souls - leather, man-made or god-made! She moved from Bishop's Stortford with her family and a bunch of other wonderful folk to starReal Life Church.
Oh and today is her birthday, Happy Birthday Melanie.

One thing that's always worth getting out of bed for
His name is Levi Matthew Crane and he is our 20 month old son. In the mornings he calls out: Mummy come and some mornings I am so tired but there is something in me that just can't wait to get his warm scruffy haired cuddle. The cuddle is usually followed by a strong demand for milk so the moment is over pretty quickly but totally worth getting out of bed for!

One thing about yourself that often obstructs you
Just one thing! Let me think... I think out loud which sometimes means that what comes out of my mouth first is total rubbish and merely mussing but everyone gets to hear it and react to it.

One thing I've learned the hard way
Forgiveness really does set you free.

One thing that gets under my skin
Again just one thing! Being ignored in a shop by people who are paid to look out for me and look after me and ultimately take my money to pay their wages. Rant over!

One thing I'd love to change
One thing about myself - Processing everything out loud. One thing about the world around me - injustice. That some get to eat and some starve. I hate that.

One thing I hope for
That both my gorgeous children (Melanie is pregnant - Ed) will grow up knowing they are loved by the God who made them and that this knowledge will totally transform their lives.

Six Things is a series of micro-interviews with interesting and creative people
in which they’re asked to respond to a standard set of six prompts.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Daily Audio Bible - my solution (this year) to reading the bible!

Unless you're a book person, one of those natural readers who just automatically defaults to reading - which I am certainly not - then regular reading can be a struggle to get into and easy to fall out of. That is certainly true of me especially when it comes to regular reading of the Bible. I want to do it but I'm definitely not the best reader. I'm very much an erratic compulsive reader. Whether it's the Bible, newspapers, books, even reading blogs and the like on the internet, I usually go through phases where I get gripped and focused on reading for a while. After a few weeks I often find my attention and therefore time and space has moved onto something else and coming back to reading is difficult.

Then around the end of May I came across the Daily Audio Bible podcast. The Daily Audio Bible is at it's core the simple reading of the bible from cover to cover over the course of the year.

So I thought I would give it a go and it has worked really well for me. I have set my phone podcasting app to pick up the download around 6am and so when I wake it up it is usually downloaded and I can listen to it over breakfast or even in the shower (I leave it on the external speaker on max so I can hear it above the sound of the water!). Sometimes I listen as I ride it work or if I haven't been able to listen during the day I put my headphones in and listen as I lie in bed, no need to have the light on or my glasses to read at night (and occasionally I have fallen asleep to it - but I trust that is what God wanted for me at that time!).

Brian Hardin the founder of the Daily Audio Bible has been doing this over five years and in the course of this time a huge number of people have connected with this ministry. Brian has started a church community in his town (based in a coffee shop he setup) and provides a place for prayer and community off the back of what has developed through the Daily Audio Bible (via the website). What I really like about Brian is that he has stuck at doing the core activity - bringing the bible into peoples lives everyday - whilst slowly adding other aspects to the ministry but each aspect is built in a spirit of community in both the general sense of people all across world have things in common but also very much in a local sense, always encouraging people to engage where they are in a local faith community.

So if you think this could help enhance your reading and love of scripture then why not have a listen - click here for a link to the podcast feed.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Sacred Heart

On holiday in Paris over the summer with my family I visited the Sacre Coeur (The Sacred Heart) Basilica in Montmartre. The building was started in 1875 and on 1st Aug 1885 dedicated as a place where there has been continuous prayer to God day & night.

I'm a Christian and I try to pray and know God calls and asks me to pray. But if I'm honest, regular and consistent prayer is often a struggle. If I pray everyday for a week it's a good week and if I make every day for a month that's great. I struggle to imagine praying every day for a whole year without missing a day. So when I think of over 100 years of continuous prayer, 24/7, it is frankly mind blowing.

The Sacre Coeur is probably a unique place in the world. Most worshipping communities desire to be places and people of prayer and we try a variety of methods, times, groups and places. Reflecting on what has been accomplished by the community at the Sacre Coeur it seems the approach we as individuals and communities need to embrace to become a people of prayer is to simply decide to pray and then pray.

Friday, 30 September 2011

The best song to start worship ever?

Over the years I have heard talks about the typical or ideal flow of worship, usually starting with declaration (about the truths of God and why we worship) moving to celebration (our joyous response to these wonderful truths), moving onto intimacy (deeply felt songs about our closeness to God) and hopefully ending with commission (singing our missional response to go out and be salt and light).

Of course there is no perfect flow or formula for worship but often we either consciously or subconsciously develop a pattern because we are generally creatures of habit. A while back I posted on the lack of joy in our worship songs and I have to say recently in my church there has been a lot more joy in our worship times and I am happy about that (if you'll pardon the pun). However, I was reflecting on these elements of declaration, celebration, intimacy and commission and couldn't help thinking there is a missing ingredient: Preparation.

Now ideally we would all individually prepare ourselves before coming together to worship and all be raring to go, but if you are struggling with life's circumstances that is not always easy. And what about those going through serious illness, marriage break ups, redundancy, bereavement and a multitude of other situations that are incredibly tough and have no easy answers, how do they get themselves ready to worship?

Well I wonder could we help by making the start of our worship time accessible, real and inclusive? Rather than going straight to declare God's greatness why not really acknowledge where different people are at and invite us all, despite our circumstances to fix our eyes and soul on Jesus, the one who can meet us where we are. There are many ways we can do this and I would like to share two with you.

The first is a video (An Honest Welcome). If I was to use this I would take the words, make them my own, read them out as a personal welcome and call to worship.

The second is a song "Come on my soul" by Rend Collective Experiment. I think this is the best song to start a time of worship. It helps us individually and collectively sing to the deep of our souls telling them to open up and sing to the Lord. Every time I listen to this song I get to the end of it and I am in a place of worship.

So have a watch of these videos and let me know what you think, what's your ideas for songs or other methods that could or have helped prepare us to worship Jesus the king?



Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Communicating Vision

Before we look at communication let me ask the question, have you got a vision? Is it a destination that you can actually reach or have you actually got a mission statement which is your organisations reason for existence?

Assuming you have a vision there is an important process to go through before you start to communicate it. This process could potentially save you both time and increase the effectiveness of your communication immeasureably - find out if your vision makes sense!

How do you ensure your vision make sense?
Doesn't it already make sense? Remember it makes complete sense to you, you being the person or the team that has carried, crafted and lived it for days, weeks maybe even years.
But do you really want people who hear this vision for the first time to have to ask questions like "when you say X what do you mean?"

Hand your vision statement over to some people who have not been part of the process, these people should meet the following criteria - be good with words, include men and women, cover a range of ages and people types i.e. not just similar people to the leader(s). Give over the documentation you have produced so far and ask them simply "does this make sense, do you have any questions?" then sit back and look to take on board this important feedback.

Concise or long winded?
Your vision can be just two or three words (famously Canon photocopiers was "kill Xerox") or it could cover many specific areas with several goals. However, your vision needs to be memorable and if it is a set of goals using an overarching title or vehicle for your vision will help people to remember it. A good example of a wide ranging vision being encompassed in a memorable way is Kings Arms Church, Bedford who have used the numbers 1 to 5 to connect their goals to their 5 year vision.

How do you communicate?
Simple answer - by every means possible until everyone knows the vision or you have achieved it! In communicating vision there are two key aspects to consider:
1. What are the questions you need to answer?
2. Consider the methods you need to use to really communicate with people

The questions - there are three main questions people will have - Why, How, What

Why have you\we gone for this vision? If the vision is a natural extension of the past or normal for your type of organisation this why question may just cover issues around the scope of the vision. Questions that ask why so high\low\long\short\small\big etc.
If it is a major departure from where you are at now it will be necessary to demonstrate where the faith is in this new vision.

How will we get there? Again the smaller and simpler the vision the less of these questions will come.
Going for a grand vision way beyond where you are now requires more confidence in the steps to get there and if these are outlined then people can gain confidence and accept the vision more readily.

What does it mean for us\me? In the back of everybodies mind whenever a rousing speech or vision is set out there is a little voice that says, "So What?", or in other words, "What does this mean for me?".
This often will be thought of in terms of remuneration of some sought but also in terms of how will I be involved in this. The vision will paint a picture of a wonderful future but what part will I play in helping make this happen? Do I have a part? How will I be involved? All sorts of questions like this will be asked. Maybe even some cynical ones like "We've heard this all before.".

The Methods
Nothing beats "hearing from the horse's mouth", so the leader of the organisation needs to stand up and clearly layout the vision for the organisation answering the Why, How and What questions.

Beyond this initial communication you need to account for people who aren't there to hear, people who process in different ways, and people who need to hear something several times to fully understand and take on board the vision (this last group is somewhere between 99-100% of the population!).

Having the vision and what it means for us written down in various forms will enable people to pick it up and process it at their own pace.

Repeating the vision is another key method to use. However, remember you can always have too much of a good thing! When the vision is launched it is appropriate to repeat the core of the vision at every opportunity.

Encouraging people to discuss and feedback to the leadership can be helpful. Doing this inevitably will bring up ideas and views that are significantly different to the leadership and the vision. Ignoring these views and people is the wrong thing to do. There will always be actions and strategies that we wouldn't do or follow but, we will still follow leaders if we feel our opinions are heard and respected. Ignoring the views and ideas of people can lead to the situation where people feel that they might as well just ignore your vision. They will certainly not put effort into achieving it and possibly will just leave.


In summary:
  • Make sure your vision makes sense
  • Make it memorable
  • Consider the questions people have
  • Use all the available methods and encourage discussion and interaction

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Six Things - Stuart Crane

Stuart currently resides in the fabulous city of Birmingham along with his beautiful wife Melanie and his amazing son Levi. During the day Stuart splits his time between leading Real Life Church and being a primary school teacher.  In his few spare moments he be found either reading a good book, attending a Karate class or watching American Football, the greatest game on God's earth!

One thing that's always worth getting out of bed for
My wife's breakfast muffins and pancakes.

One thing about yourself that often obstructs you
Procrastination, I am currently studying for a PhD in it.

One thing I've learned the hard way
When you have made a mistake just admit it....quickly.

One thing that gets under my skin
We live by the absolutely massive Sutton Park (around 2200 acres!) and it is a fab place to take walk, share a picnics, ride a bike, fly a kite etc and one that really bugs me about is dog owners who do not clear up their dog's poop!

One thing I'd love to change
Time zones!  So I can watch the American Football at a decent hour.

One thing I hope for
To cross the finish line at the end of my life and hear the words "Well done good and faithful servant".

Six Things is a series of micro-interviews with interesting and creative people
in which they’re asked to respond to a standard set of six prompts.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Something unexpected

At the end of August my family & I went to Greenbelt. Greenbelt is a Christian arts festival where music, art, performance, thought, discussion and creativity meet amongst 20,000 people from all avenues of Christian traditions.

Beforehand we downloaded the festival app so my wife & I were able to browse through each day and mark all the seminars, gigs and childrens events we thought might be interesting. I marked about six or seven talks and two bands I wanted to hear Rend Collective and Idlewild.

As the weekend progressed I spent most of my time with my two girls taking them to different activities and talks which meant my wife to go to the talks she wanted. I was having an enjoyable and relaxing time, not worrying about missing out on anything. Then one evening with my eldest daughter looking a bit bored we reviewed the bands on in the Underground venue. I spied an act called Listener who performed something called Talk Music. We decided to go along and I can safely say things will never be the same again.

Listener mixes poetry, folk, punk and heavy metal sometimes into a wall of sound, sometimes playfully moving through the genres in one song. They have a performance style that is both agressive and a little in your face (esp. in a small venue) and at the same time incredibly heartfelt in a very self disclosing manner. The lead singer Dan Smith writes wonderful poetic lyrics full of surreal images that speak to you at a soul level, they are at times mystical yet full of love, grace, mercy and hope.

My favourite song of the show and the one I play over and over is the title track from their album Wooden Heart. The brilliance of the opening line "We’re all born to broken people on their most honest day of living" and the call for us in our churches to "wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief" are just two highlights (you can watch and listen to it below).



So I came away from Greenbelt with a new favourite band and more than that, music that speaks to me where I am right now and to something of the truth of who we are as people in this world.

All the family loved the event and we are sure to be going back again. I wonder what events or experiences you have had this year that have ministered to you and will shape your life ahead? Let me know.

PS: I even had a Gong Shower but that most definitely is another story!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Getting your Vision – What’s on the front of your bus?


Leadership is about achieving a vision. So you need a vision, how do you get one?

The leader and leaders of any organisation should have a vision. If they haven’t or the current vision has been achieved or needs to be changed then a new vision needs to be set.

As I said in my previous post looking at the definition of mission, vision, values and goals – vision should answer the question “Where are we going?”

As you seek to answer this question you need to consider the following:

1. How far ahead are we looking?

2. How long will you spend getting the vision

3. What resources will you put into getting the vision (eg retreats)

4. What will the vision look like, its nature?
Numerical – to be a church of X by Year Y
Qualitative – to be a people and place where the love of God is found
Reputational – to be known as the people and place where God can be found
Each of these types should still be measureable

In looking at these questions and the general question of where you want to get to it is worth bringing into this process as many people who can help shape it and add real value to it.

Occasionally, there will a very clear and specific direction that the main leader feels is the answer and the organisation will follow after that. However, in these cases there should still be a seeking after wisdom from the whole body of leadership and not the potentially dangerous reliance on one person’s personal vision.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Understanding the difference between Vision, Mission, Values & Goals


On my previous leadership post I said if leadership is about anything then it's about achieving a vision. But what do we mean by vision, and what about mission, values and goals?

I think it may be helpful to define what is normally meant by these terms.

Mission (you can also use the word Purpose)
Dictionary definition – a person’s vocation, his mission in life
Mission answers the question “Why do we exist?”

Vision
Dictionary definition – something seen in the imagination or in a dream
Should answer the question “Where are we going?”
A vision statement must have a destination otherwise it is just a purpose\mission statement.

Values
The way we do things here – culture, ethos – our distinctiveness
What we believe in shapes our values, our values shape our behaviour.

Goals
These should annual plans that help you move towards your vision in bite-sized chunks
They should be achieveable but challenging.
You could have annual, 2-3 year or 5-10 year goals, it all depends on the long term nature of your vision.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Dopplegangers

There is a saying, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", well I feel very flattered indeed.

I, like many people, have a twitter account @fingerpies and during August somebody created a fake Steven Hunter account @NotStevenHunter.

I have my suspicions of who is behind this account but I have decided that I am going to live in the happy place of not really knowing and enjoying his or her posts. Some of the funniest post have been:

On Nic Lines seminar at Newday
Heard great things about the  seminar, though not sure that barista is actually an Ephesians 4 ministry 

On my trip to Paris
Loving France. Impenetrable accents, terrible driving, a true appreciation of facial hair... I should have been born here!

On my weekend at Greenbelt
Looking forward to Greenbelt so I can unleash my inner hippie. Cleaned my sandals today in preparation. 

One big difference between myself and my alter ego is that I don't like Malibu (which he regularly imbibes). However, the idea of regularly having a sneaky drink does sound very tempting!

So long live @NotStevenHunter, may my life continue to provide you with a rich resource to comment on.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The pressure and pain of surrender

"What can I say, what can I do? But offer this heart O God completely to you".
This is a line from a popular worship song The Stand by Joel Houston. It speaks of the desire of a person who, recognising all that God has done for them all they want to do is to give everything to God.

It's a sentiment that is said in many places in the bible and also in my favourite hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, with the wonderful line - "love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all".

But how do can I give my heart and my life completely to God? If it's easy then surely every Christian would have done it and we would all be saints!

The picture of an orange and a juicer comes to mind. The juice of the orange is all of me, my heart or life if you will. The first squeeze to get a load of the orange juice out is relatively easy. And with each squeeze a little bit more juice comes out but it gets harder and harder each time. The pressure required needs to increase and the pain to ensure the orange juice comes out is more intense.

I know this metaphor isn't perfect, none are, and we rightly ask for more of God but do we realise we could be just as easily be asking for more pressure and pain. A pain which is good for us - "suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" Romans 5:3, as the gym instructor would say to us "if it isn't hurting it isn't working".

Whatever pain you are walking through, chosen or not, may you see the hope that awaits at the end of it.


Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Six Things - Bethany Richard

Bethany grew up in Kent before completing a degree in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge.  After graduating four years ago she moved to Bishops Stortford to complete a year of voluntary work with the Community Church.  She liked it so much that she stayed and has been working in the town ever since, in various part-time jobs involving children and young people - teaching at the Christian School in Takeley, privately tutoring, and becoming her alter ego 'Brainy Bethany' at Mad Science after-school clubs and holiday camps.  In September she will be starting a Secondary PGCE course in Chemistry, back at Cambridge.  Her favourite things are reading children's fantasy novels, baking cakes, singing, making jewellery, watching period dramas and sci-fi movies and climbing mountains.

One thing that's always worth getting out of bed for
The chance to create something, whether it's music, craft, a cake or even just a clean and tidy house!

One thing about yourself that often obstructs you
My indecisiveness.  I often find it hard to know what I want, let alone how to go about getting it.

One thing I've learned the hard way
If I go out in the sun I will get sunburnt.  Every year I forget this simple truth!

One thing that gets under my skin
People who are rude - it's just not necessary.

One thing I'd love to change
The price of petrol!

One thing I hope for
To see my dreams fulfilled in the way that most honours God.


Six Things is a series of micro-interviews with interesting and creative people
in which they’re asked to respond to a standard set of six prompts.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The colours of creation

I recently visited the Musee D'Orsay in Paris and had the chance to see some of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings.

I knew they were good, even great, but I was not ready for how amazing they were. The paintings were simply astounding, indeed looking at his contemporaries paintings like Gauguin, a great painter in his own regard, it was like comparing a professional to a good amateur. Vincent's paintings are full of life and vibrancy. I would encourage everyone who has the chance to see them in the flesh to do so, you won't be disappointed.

His paintings inspired me, I found this poem just come out of me as I reflected on my visit.

In a stroke there are a thousand shades of life
revealing what has been in plain sight
Hidden from the sight of mere mortals
but opened by this mans inspired hand
How it dances, the spark of life
it dazzles on the petals, it twinkles on the swirls of the fields
exuding from even chair and bed
Is there something special in this paint?
Or are we seeing the touch of the Divine?
A tortured soul, misunderstood and alone
but closer to God in someways than we could ever be
Thank you Vincent for sharing with us
the colours of creation.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Speaking a different language

How many of you, like me struggle to learn or speak a different language? This year I am going on holiday to France and I know I will only be able to speak a few token words of French and even if I really tried to learn I would barely get out of the basic phrases. And once you try to learn a bit of another language you then hit the massive hurdle of fluent speakers talking back at you two or three times too fast for you to understand.

The easy part of learning a language is using the words, understanding them when they are spoken to you and being able to respond back is the real skill. I have discovered (over the last ten years or so) that I need to learn the language of human emotions and connection. I am probably still in year 1 primary age class in this topic (with occasional flashes of promise!).

I wish like French someone had engaged me with a real desire to learn this inner language and not be stuck in my well established routines and responses. But the good news is we never stop learning and even someone as old as me can learn a new trick!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Leadership: destination, people, journey, and arriving

If leadership is about anything then it's about achieving a vision. Whether that vision is...
... winning the championship or avoiding relegation
... growing a business or organisation
... putting on a successful event or trip

So looking at the journey a leader takes in achieving a vision it seems there are four aspects, the four parts of leadership over any given time. Destination, People, Journey, and Arriving.

The Destination - This is all about where you are going, your vision. If you don't have one are you really leading? Is it clear, do people understand it?

The People - Someone who claims to be a leader, yet has no one following them is just taking a walk. So if you are a leader you will have people with you. How do you include them in your leadership? How do you inspire the keen ones and not at the same time disenfranchise the cautious ones?

The Journey - Very few leadership journeys are really easy and mishap free. Much like life there are ups and downs and often it is the downs that test and shape leaders the most. How do you handle the problems? How do we - leaders and the organisation as a whole - learn from our mistakes?

Arriving - At the end of our journey we arrive at our destination. This can be a time for reflection, resetting and relaunching or maybe retirement.

Over the next few weeks I will put a bit more meat on these four bones of leadership. I would love to know your comments on this overall view and my thoughts on each aspect as I share them.


Personal note:
I don't claim to be a guru on leadership but over the years I have experienced and worked with great leaders, read and studied on aspects of leadership and I hope gained some experience and understanding myself.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Six Things - Mike French

Mike was born in Cornwall in 1967, and spent his childhood there and in Forres in Scotland with a few early years in Singapore. He is married with three “wonderful kids” and currently lives in Luton in the UK.

The owner and senior editor of The View From Here literary magazine, he also enjoys painting, watching Formula 1, eating Ben & Jerry's icecream and listening to Noah and the Whale.  His second novel, Blue Friday is now completed and he is starting work on his third novel. For the last ten years Mike has been a “home dad” after giving up his job in optical engineering to look after the kids full time – much of his first novel, The Ascent of Isaac Steward was written during their afternoon naps!

Mike blogs here : http://mikefrenchuk.com/
And twitters here : https://twitter.com/MikeFrench1

One thing that's always worth getting out of bed for
The sound of post coming through the letterbox. You never know – sure it’s just bills but one day it could be that Knighthood. Although these days the post arrives about eleven – so the chances of still being in bed then are zero.

One thing about yourself that often obstructs you
I have trouble with door handles, slippery things. Means sometimes all it needs is a closed door to obstruct me.  Apart from that my tendency to be a perfectionist which sometimes is a strength sometimes bogs me down.

One thing I've learned the hard way
That God rarely just opens those pesky doors – when I finished my novel for example I thought getting a contract would surely soon follow. Ha! I’m older and wiser now and learnt to jimmy the handle by sticking a screwdriver behind it. God apparently approves.

One thing that gets under my skin
People that just walk out in front of the car. Is it wrong to want to run them over?

One thing I'd love to change
Toy packaging. You know all those annoying plastic ties holding them in like strait jackets.

One thing I hope for
To get to the end of my days without being completely knackered.

Six Things is a series of micro-interviews with interesting and creative people
in which they’re asked to respond to a standard set of six prompts.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Hanging with the kidz

Today I have been setting up a site and tents ready for the start of the Newday youth camp which will have 6633 teenagers in attendance.

While I am here I will be blogging about this event at rev2011newday.wordpress.com/


Thursday, 28 July 2011

Judged - rejected, crushed, shunned, hurt, cast out, unloved

Judged is a short film of stories of people who were judged when they should have been loved.

Watching this can be hard and may bring up things in your life that have been hard to handle and there are no easy answers so I won't try and give them. I just hope that watching this will in some small way help.


A video of www.centralchristian.com.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Admin Lessons - Planning

"If you fail to plan, you plan to fail", it's an old adage but a true one especially when it comes to achieving a vision, goal or even just a one-off event.

My job as the administrator at my church gives me a key part in leading the planning of our church events, ministries and strategy. We normally do this a year in advance, producing an annual plan for the church running from September to August.

I believe there are three key factors you need to focus on to be effective in planning - Aim, Process, Review

AIM
The clearer you are about where you want to get to - your vision - the easier it is to get there. Sounds such a simple common sense thing to do, but so rarely is it done.

So before you start to plan ask, "What do you want to achieve?". Whatever time frame you are planning for, do you have a vision of what success will look like if you get there. Another way of thinking about this is to imagine you are writing a summary looking back over what has happened in achieving your vision. What can you envisage writing about? If your vision is to see your small groups increase from 10 to 20 then looking back after getting to 20 groups we might see the highlights were the:
- small group training course(s) that successfully identified the leaders,
- the successful launching of new groups,
- the focus and priority of small groups in church life.

Developing activities, actions and strategies is easier if you can picture where you want to get to and start to visualise what you will need to do, consider, think about to get there.

PROCESS
Both the development of vision and the planning process itself will benefit from the widest possible inclusion of people.

Over the years the steps I have used to plan have changed and developed but the process I have found best is in three parts as follows:
Session 1 - very much sets the scene, paints the big picture, and generates ideas and actions
Session 2 - is the nitty gritty of details and choices
Session 3 - reviews the process and agrees the detail of output and actions

Session 1
Gather together as many as is possible of elders, ministry leaders and staff (ideally you have people covering evangelism, kids work, youth work, small groups, worship, social action, men, women, teaching, etc.)
Over the course of 2-4 hours you will:
- Review our long term goals and vision and what God has been saying to us?
- Decide on your priorities for this year?
- Agree the principles of planning- e.g. no more than X sat events in a month
- Generate list of ideas* for activities, events and actions to help us achieve our priorities (and vision)
- Map these ideas onto a year plan

* we can and do use last years plan and activities as a start point
NB - the output of Session 1 is written up and circulated for reading before Session 2

Session 2
Again as many as possible of the people from the first session should attend this next session.
This session should last about 1-2 hours where you will:
- Review the notes / big picture plan from the first session
- Work through the details:
   > are there any date clashes?
   > does it actually help our priorities / vision?
   > can we deliver it? over crowded diaries / not enough resources?
   > does it meet our planning principles?
- Check if you have missed anything? A chance to add other bright ideas!

Session 3
A final session reviewing changes from the previous session, probably just a core team needed for this part of the process.
This session will review:
- dates and activities.
- communication of plans - see my previous post on communication
- action list
- agree review points for the plan over the course of the year

REVIEW
If you have a goal and a plan of how to move towards achieving that goal. It is madness if you wait until you've done everything or got to the end of your plan to see if it has been successful.

W Edwards Deming the man who is generally credited with helping the revival of the Japanese economy after World War II taught people, amongst many other things, about the PDCA cycle, Plan - Do - Check - Act.
After planning and starting to work on or towards your goal we should study how we are doing. Is it working? Do we need to refine things? This leads to action which is planned and so the cycle continues.

Does this sound too business like for a church? What if I was to replace the word Check with the word Listen - listen to God, listen to what any measures may be telling you, listen to what the church says (the wisdom of the crowd).

How often you review things probably depends on how long you are planning for. If you are planning for the year Sept-Aug, review in Jan/Feb then again around Easter. The Easter review could immediately precede or be part of the start of planning for the next year.

In summary...
No system or process for planning is perfect and can it always be improved. But being systematic whilst being open to change gives you a framework to achieve your vision, God willing :-). I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on planning, what works, your struggles, what you think of my structure, and anything else.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Oslo Tragedy

Watching and listening to the news over the weekend it was hard to imagine what it must be like for the people of Norway, especially the hundreds if not thousands directly effected by this tragedy.

This video brings across the shock of the event and the spirit of the people. Norway may the peace of God be with you.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Introductions and Communion

This post is for preachers, worship leaders, and church leaders but hopefully of interest to the rest of us.

How you introduce anything sets the scene, gives it its foundation and hopefully captures the attention and interest of those being spoken to. I believe Rob Bell is a master at this and below is an audio clip (6 minutes) from his last message at his church, Mars Hill Bible Church*. He does a number of things in this introduction. - welcomes people, tells them what he will be preaching on, uses humour to engage people - but most importantly he talks about the communion they will take at the end of meeting (0:57-2:52).



I've heard Rob introducing communion before usually at the end of a message leading to a time of ministry, which he does at the end of this message as well. This time he shares the centrality of communion to Mars Hill and the importance they give it. What struck me personally is the depth this act can bring us into God's love. I found myself wanting to respond to invitation. It made me think do we just go through the motions with communion, should it have a higher place in our gatherings?

So if you are a preacher, worship or church leader why not listen to this clip a few times, if only as exercise in learning from a great communicator (listen to the wonderful prayer he says before he starts the message 4:16-5:44). I pray that we would all see more and more of the depth of this great sacrament that we have been given.

* no the other Mars Hill, yes there are two!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Six Things - Matthew Squirrell

Matthew Squirrell is about to get married, to the lovely Esther Barfoot, this Saturday in fact!

Matthew is a Director of property recruitment firm Dove & Hawk. In his spare time he is part of the Community Church youth team and is also to be found treading the boards in the Newport Amateur Theatrical Society. Matthew directed their last pantomime "Babes in the Wood" to critical acclaim (oh no he didn't, oh yes he did!).


One thing worth getting out of bed for
My friends. They do life with me and they are great company and so much fun. My best friends know EVERYTHING about me. It's a good thing.

One thing about myself that that often obstructs me
My enthusiasm to do too many things can some times be an issue. On more than one occasion I have made myself ill by doing way too much. The problem is that I get most of my energy when I'm around others and I love spending time with others; it just means that all of a sudden I can come to a halt.

One thing I've learned the hard way
Honesty is ALWAYS the best policy. Lying means you have to remember what you lied about, and often you find yourself trapped in your own web of lies. Always tell the truth even when it hurts, is something I've learnt the hard way.

One things that gets under my skin
Gossip! I don't like it. I suppose it's because I've seen the damage it can do. Over the past couple of years I've tried my hardest to stop doing it and asking others to stop it when I'm around. If you're not part of the problem or not part of the solution you don't need to talk about it!

One thing I'd love to change
People's view of church! Have you ever seen the Mr Bean sketch of him in church falling asleep? Hilarious episode, but at the same time that's actually what people think about God & Church; that he/it's boring, sleepy, weak and out dated. I hope to change the worldly view of our powerful, active, loving God and his church by living my life his way and stepping out in obedience!

One thing I hope for
My family, friends and work colleagues to meet Jesus & get saved! It's a big part of my prayer list! 


Six Things is a series of micro-interviews with interesting and creative people,
in which they’re asked to respond to a standard set of six prompts.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Today - one photo every day

Following on from my last post I thought I would share this film and website I discovered.

Jonathan Harris turned 30 on 27th Aug 2009 and decided to take one photo everyday and posting it to his website

He turned these photos into a short and quite evocative film. I hope you enjoy it and that its creativity will stir yours.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Interesting things I've seen this year

This year I have decided to try to look out for things that interest, amuse or inspire me and capture those images. When you look at these photos like these what do you see? What does it make you think, feel? There are no right answers, or rather everyone has an answer which is right for what they see. Doesn't what we see reflect what is in our hearts, and maybe what is in God's? If I could have recorded every 'interesting' thing I came across this year there would tens of thousands, no tens of millions of images. Every smile, laugh, tear, person, creature and creation has something of the divine in them. Enjoy discovering your interesting things today, tomorrow and the rest of your life.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The wisdom of crowds

Recently at church a word* was brought about there being "wells of wisdom" in people and these wells need to be released to serve the wider body. It just so happens that I had started to read a book called The Wisdom of the Crowd by James Surowiecki. The premise of the book is that the diversity and mixture of a large group comes to better decisions than a small number of experts time and time again - hence the crowd has wisdom.

To include many or the majority of people in any decisions or involvement in an organisation can be hard and even seen as just wrong. In leadership terms it seems counter intuitive. We think of the best leadership as strong, clear, leading ahead, setting the direction and coming from the few key leaders or indeed the one main leader who holds the vision for the organisation. But if Surowiecki is right then this is not the wisest course of action, to keep all decisions to the few or the one person - the crowd would help make better decisions.

So how do we release the wisdom of the crowd (those wells that we all have) in a church or indeed any organisation? I have some thoughts but not many and I 'm only half way through the book! I do think that this is something that we need to look at and investigate as our society (our communities and organisations) become both more fragmented (and disconnected from leadership) and at the same time more instantly connected (often through social media - facebook, twitter et al).

What do you think?

* "a word" is what Christians would describe as a prophetic word - a feeling, picture or idea that a person believes is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Funnily enough the bible talks about the weighing or interpreting of these is to be done by the crowd! (1 Cor 14:29)

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Six Things - Sarah Garwood

Sarah Garwood is 48 – eek don’t tell anyone – ooh, I just did. Despite her obvious quirks she is an out and out Christian with nothing much in her heart except Jesus, Jesus and more of, yes you guessed it, Jesus. Sarah lives with her 13 year old son Sam who loves chocolate, friends, climbing and archery (in that order!).

Sarah (who also loves chocolate and friends and watching Sam do the climbing and archery) has been on a divergent career journey, which began in pursuit of an equity card and has established itself in consultancy and assessment with a little B&B on the side. On this epic journey, she had a good few years in the leadership of Holiday Bible Week, which was both hugely growing and humbling, crafted through our purposeful God. Her heart now would be to use these combining experiences to work with Christian organisations and get them free and moving to be the hands and feet God calls them to be.

One thing that's always worth getting out of bed for
These gloriously sunny days and the promise of a 2011 sun tan!

One thing about yourself that often obstructs you
My unwilling feet when they don’t go in the direction they ought!

One thing I've learned the hard way
You can’t go over, under or round life’s trials and you definitely go nowhere if you stand still – so you’ve got to go through them.  How hard can it be to walk through treacle, a hailstorm, a shower of arrows or maybe all three at the same time?  I’ve only got one answer to that ‘Ouch!’  (Yes, I’m afraid the ‘Ouch’ always comes before the ‘Aaarrr’)

One thing that gets under my skin
Hopefully melanin for that sun tan rather than one of the arrows!

One thing I'd love to change
Places with someone in Bermuda – anyone out there up for it?  (Anything for my feet to extract themselves from the treacle.)

One thing I hope for
The coming of the Kingdom when the Son will always shine and there’ll be no more trials for anyone to wade through!


Six Things is a series of micro-interviews with interesting and creative people,
in which they’re asked to respond to a standard set of six prompts.