Tag Archives: Porterbrook Network

What is Storying?

Previously I wrote about why I thought story was a key missional practice in reaching and effectively discipling both traditionally oral and functionally non-literary hearers.  In literary societies the priority lies mainly with the teller, we read books and attend lectures or sermons by experts.  However in a non-literary context, “The missional mind-set places the priority on the hearer, not the teller.”[1]

This is not to discount the role of the storyteller or relativize all truth to purely subjective experience.  There is objective truth but there is also a subjective interaction and appropriation of that truth to the individual and a community.  Storying invites an interaction with an objectively true biblical story in such a way that those who participate are learning, discussing and engaging with the story firstly at a subjective level that invites them to consider whether this story fits with their experience of the world.  If it does they must then consider whether it is objectively true.

But what does it “look like” to do Biblical storying?[2]

REWRITE the biblical story keeping close to the biblical details but looking to simplify (e.g. remove details like place names, less significant people etc) and highlight repetition, turning points, tension and eventual resolution.  This is not a creative retelling (e.g. modernised setting), although this type of story may be helpful in itself; negatively it detract from the biblical text and limits reproducibility.  The average story ought to be about three minutes long.

REVIEW: Begin each storying session with a review of the previous story or stories as a group.  “Who can remember the story we did the last time?”  Try not to move on to the new story until everyone is up to speed.

TELL: Tell the story from beginning to end, resist the temptation to stop and add extra information or explain something. Stick to the story!  Be real and natural.  Be yourself, relax and have fun.  Use your voice to “explain” the story- change the tone, pace, volume as the story requires.  Do not read the story- tell the story.  Storying works best when the storyteller memorizes the story.

RETELL the story as a group asking everyone to participate in the retelling.  You could also retell it in pairs or smaller groups, or even have one person attempt to retell the story with help from the group.  To literary learners this may seem redundant and they may be tempted to skip this step.  Oral learners are comfortable with repetition and this is a key step for aiding memory and creating a reproducible story culture.

REFLECT: The storyteller leads the group in a time of dialogue and reflection on the story. This is not the time for the teacher to preach or for the expert to engage in a Question and Answer time.  This is a time to guide listeners to discover the truths in the story NOT from YOU.   For those of us who are teachers, this requires us to let go of our need to be the expert and allow the Bible story to do its work through the group’s reflection on the story. The teacher will aim to direct the group with a few well-chosen thoughts or questions.

The leader will always simultaneously look to direct questions back to the story and redirect questions back to the group.  Learning to ask the right kind of questions is a key skill for this to work well.  Learning to be patient is also key; allow time for people to process, for differing opinions, tensions, questions and wondering.  This is not a curriculum; this is not a rush to see who learnt the most from the story and who can get the right answers.  Storying is an invitation to reflect, to meditate, to wonder and to enter the world of the story and explore it, pick it up, turn it over, take it apart, put it back together and as we do that to God’s story, the Holy Spirit does the same thing to us.

Mark Miller says it well:

“A sermon tells people what to think.  A story forces people to do the thinking for themselves.  It can feel dangerous because it allows for interpretation… Do we trust people and the Holy Spirit enough to allow them to think for themselves?  Can we leave something open-ended, knowing the conclusions might not come until later that day, week, month or year?  Can we allow people to own the stories?  Or do we do all of the interpreting and leave nothing to the imagination?… In our attempts to make the Gospel clear, we have often squeezed the life out of it.  Jesus’ parables were intriguing, open to interpretation, playful, interesting.”[3]

[1] Mark Miller: Experiential Storytelling (Zondervan: 2003); p45 cited in Tim Chester: “Bible Teaching in Missional Perspective” Porterbrook Network (Advanced Year Module); Unit 6: Introducing Storytelling, p54.

[2] Drawing from Tim Chester: “Bible Teaching in Missional Perspective” Porterbrook Network (Advanced Year Module); Unit 6: Introducing Storytelling, p61.  And Caesar Kalinowski: Story of God Training

[3] Mark Miller: Experiential Storytelling (Zondervan: 2003); p37,41 cited in Tim Chester: “Bible Teaching in Missional Perspective” Porterbrook Network (Advanced Year Module); Unit 6: Introducing Storytelling, p63.

The Problem with Friendship Evangelism

A significant problem with “friendship evangelism” is that we can end up only reaching “people like us” or even just people we like.  And as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5:46, if you only love those who love you- everyone does that.  Even the tax-collectors.

In addition to our existing relationships we need to cross social and cultural divides.  We need to move out of the ghetto.

Almost by definition, friendship evangelism leaves the socially marginalised untouched.  And yet these were precisely the people Jesus went out of his way to include.

In Luke 14 we observe God- the Master of the great eternal party- has thrown open his banquet to
“the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (v21).  Jesus urges us out of our ghetto in imitation of his gracious Father.

Jesus, himself left the splendour and security of heaven to live and die – among and for us.  Us who are so radically different from him and undeserving of his love.  And just as the Father has sent him so he now sends us (John 20:21).

(Based on the Porterbrook Network “Evangelism” module; Unit 3: Building Relationships)

Introducing the Porterbrook Training Network

I have recently begun working with the Porterbrook Training Network in South Africa.

The Porterbrook Network is a developing initiative aimed at contributing to a wider church planting movement by equipping individuals and churches to rediscover mission as their DNA through training, and resourcing.  In practice a distance learning programme for developing missional leaders coming from the context of  The Crowded House network,  Although Porterbrook Training is now a separate entity with a wider ministry.

Our hope is to see churches reaching diverse peoples with the transforming Gospel of God (Word) and with a visible demonstration that the reign of Jesus is good (Christian Community).

What is the Porterbrook Network about?

  • Biblical – deeply rooted in the Scriptures
  • Practical – rich theology, applied in detail and relevant to real life
  • Relational – because the Christian life was never meant to be lived alone
  • Contextual – remain in your normal work and Christian community
  • Accessible – no prior theological education required (average competency in English is needed)
  • Flexible – schedule is adaptable to suit your circumstances
  • Affordable – quality training at a reasonable price

You can learn more about the syllabus here.

Check out our South African website here or the International (UK) one here.

For the social media savvy you can Like our Facebook Page or follow us on Twitter.

E-mail me for more info: capetown AT porterbrooknetwork DOT org

Watch some students in the UK talking about their experiences here


“The Porterbrook Network is an innovative resource that offers affordable, high-quality training for mission and ministry in the 21st century. I warmly recommend it.” Tim Keller

“The Porterbrook Network is an excellent resource for equipping churches and individuals as we look at responding in a distinctive gospel manner to the needs in our nation and world.”Vaughan Roberts, Rector, St Ebbe’s, Oxford

A Week(s) in Woodstock

So this is not quite a reflection on the past week in Woodstock as close to 2 weeks.  So just a couple of snapshots and then a few reflections & developments going forward…

I continued to spend quite a bit of time last week on 1 Peter for the Wellington holiday club.  I was quite pleased with these two posts (Gospel Suffering is Participation in the Life of God & Big Idea in 1 Peter), starting to feel like I am beginning to articulate all the strands and ideas swimming in my head surrounding this book.

The bad news, however, is that the Wellington holiday club is not going to happen due it seems to a change of heart by those in Wellington.  It was looking likely that it was going to be a bunch of outsiders coming and running a programme in Wellington for the kids and then leaving and trying to get others to do follow up… never an ideal situation.  And then we had problems with the venue and the accommodation.  It seemed the writing was on the wall…

Maybe it was because I had just written this a few weeks back, that prompted me to suggest an alternative plan to Darrel.

“One thing I have to learn is to get more flexible and creative when my plans don’t work out.  Simple church is all about “creating work” for yourself.  When things don’t work I have to beware of defaulting to doing “ministry type things” that make me feel like I have ticked the boxes of productivity and significance.  Rather I need to take those times to simply be there in the community – watching, listening and learning.”

As a result Darrel, myself and my family, together with about 10-20 young people are headed up to Bain’s Kloof on Sunday for 4 days of missional training.  After trying to rework 1 Peter to fit into the new plan, I decided to rework it completely.  As a result this week has been quite preparation intensive again – as I worked on The Story of God’s People: Missionaries, Family, Disciples;  Missional Living, Decision Making, Possessions, Gospel Communities, Knowing your Neighbourhood…  I am really excited about our time together.  Praying that the Spirit would use our time to challenge young people to see the counter-cultural, radical, big life of the gospel and to dream big, impossible, audacious, Kingdom dreams together.

Due mainly to walls being knocked out of houses and the ever-present winter flu, our Tuesday prayer meetings have been a bit sporadic the past few weeks but we did manage to all agree to get together last Tuesday.  We sat around in a half-renovated house in the dark praising and calling out to our God.  It all sounds rather post-modern, and new liturgical doesn’t it?  The actual story is a bit more mundane and yet bizarre – the electricity ran out at the half-renovated (better than their own house due to the presence of walls if you were wondering), house of a friend that Alan and Nicole were staying at, no-one could find any candles and the corner shop only opened in 30 minutes time.  So no coffee and on top of that Alan could not find his glasses… not that they would have helped him that much.  It was a plus point for having a Bible programme on your phone though.

On Tuesday I braved the chilly weather to tackle head on the weekly challenge of the Woodstock Lounge pub quiz.  Had a couple of friends join with me – was good to catch up a bit between the questions.  The advantages of having a bartender, lyrical poet and a health food store owner proved decisive and The Young League once again crushed the imperialistic tendencies of the other teams to emerge victorious with a (way too small) T-shirt and some bar snacks for our brilliance! Tenderpreneurs we are not…

The other thing that has taken quite a bit of my time lately has been working on a Regional Learning Collective for the Porterbrook Training.  Colin and I have divided up responsibilities for Porterbrook in such a way that he is looking after all the distance for the rest of the country while I am going to try get some new collective learning initiatives going here in Cape Town.

Porterbrook in Cape Town is looking to enhance the learning experience for those students in and around Cape Town by encouraging students to participate in a common learning syllabus for the greater Cape Town area.  To this end:

1) We will be holding 3 Regional Collective Learning Days with a 3-fold function of providing more information to those interested, introducing the curriculum based learning for that term and providing a forum for students to share how they are learning and applying the principles in their contexts.  The first Collective Learning Day is 23 July.  E-mail me at capetown (at) porterbrooknetwork (dot) org for more details.

2) We are going to be offering weekly tutorials for those not currently in existing learning groups but who would enjoy having the accountability and benefit of collective learning.

You can also check out our website and Facebook page

This coming weekend – you can best believe you will find me at the Woodstock Lounge around 5pm, having a Whale Tale Ale and shouting for (at?) the Stormers in the S15 semi-final.

A Week in Woodstock

On reflection a week that promised much, but probably delivered very little… at least from my limited view perspective.  Going into the week it looked like some promising activities and meetings that would be a productive use of my time, but a few things ended up being cancelled or rescheduled and in the end the week looked a bit different.  One thing I have to learn is to get more flexible and creative when my plans don’t work out.  Simple church is all about “creating work” for yourself.  When things don’t work I have to beware of defaulting to doing “ministry type things” that make me feel like I have ticked the boxes of productivity and significance.  Rather I need to take those times to simply be there in the community – watching, listening and learning.

Monday morning  was  good time  making some progress in my preparation for the Wellington Holiday Club where I will be teaching through 1 Peter.  Realised this morning that I am way behind schedule and the task of 9 teaching slots and one training session in the week is a lot bigger than I imagined! Need to put some serious work in this week.  This post was the result of my Monday morning!

I also went to investigate the possibility of using Mountain Road Primary School as a venue for an holiday club for kids during the September holidays.  The news is not looking good on using the venue.  But I did get to meet the principal and I was really impressed with her interest, her attitude and her love for the kids.  They pride themselves as being a school for the community – I’m hoping we can, in the future, partner together to help them do that.

Tuesday morning prayer was cancelled due  to missing wall at Alan and Nicole’s place, where we usually pray.  Hopefully we are back on track next week.  Might be some interest in some others joining us in praying for Woodstock – exciting.

One of the drawbacks with simple church is that there is (mostly) no regular paycheck.  And the reality is that the Scheepers treasury could do with a bit more income.  So on Tuesday afternoon I had an “interview” to be a potential quiz master with QuizNite Cape Town.  I have to do a bit of on the job training and then hopefully I can pick up some ad-hoc jobs and perhaps a regular gig when one becomes available.

Wednesday morning is Porterbrook morning.  Colin and I combined orienting a new students with some strategy and planning.  Still trying to nail down some of the details for the new Learning Centre.  But for now go check out the website and if you would like to know more contact Colin or myself.

Thursday afternoon I had coffee with Mark, the Anglican priest at St Mary’s Woodstock.  Part of our goal this year is simply to listen and learn from those who have been here longer than us.  It was good to be encouraged to practice the ministry of presence.  Rather than always having to put on a programme or give input, sometimes you just need to be there when people gather.  I was also encouraged to hear their heart for the broken and the needy – evidenced in counselling for among other things HIV, Drug Abuse, womans abuse & their Wednesday soup kitchen.  Mark reminded me that there are many very poor people in Woodstock and unemployment is a signficant issue.

Friday morning spent some time working on a talk for a Wellington holiday club meeting scheduled for Sunday afternoon, which was later cancelled.  Well I guess I at least have the makings of a decent blog post…

Saturday evening was spent partly watching the rugby at Woodstock Lounge.   I had a feeling the Stormers were going to lose this one, and much to my shock I have called every Stormers game correctly this season in terms of result.  Maybe I should consider putting some money on it… alternative way to do fundraising?  First thing the barman tells me when I walk in is they are out of my favourite ale, not a good start to the evening.  On the bright side the Woodstock Lounge celebrated 7 years on Saturday and I got a free shooter.  Not really my thing but hey it was free and I guess something of a recognition of my becoming a legitimate member of the community.  On a side note – if ever you are there – have an order of their huge potato wedges!

With the holiday club meeting cancelled for Sunday afternoon, we decided to spend some time together as a family on Sunday morning.  Green Point Urban Park.  It was a beautiful day and everyone knew it.  The park was filled with runners, cyclists, families, people throwing frisbees, having a picnic, reading the newspaper… a genuine community focal point.  The city has done a great job creating this urban park and from the looks of the areas still being developed – it will get even better.

A week in Woodstock

As I pursue simple, missional church in Woodstock – one of the most common questions is – what do you do?  Or what does that look like?  Now to be honest I am not entirely sure how to answer that question.  In part because I think people feel the need to box and define things neatly with programmes or titles, and as I am learning, with organic church that is not so easy to do.  And in part because I am not sure “what I do.”  Each week looks different, has different rhythms and priorities.  Each week has space for planned and unplanned activities – and the amount for each differs from week to week.

So with all that in mind… welcome to the first of the new weekly “A Week in Woodstock” post.  This weekly post each Monday (yes I am aware it is Tuesday!) is as much for my benefit as for anybody else’s.  It affords me a chance to evaluate my past week, see patterns and trends and hopefully keep me honest too!

I began last week reflecting on a “failed” attempt to get the neighbours round for some coffee & cake on Sunday afternoon.  “Failed” because nobody came and I had to eat all the cheesecake! But it did allow me to reflect on my functional belief in the sovereignty of God. I did get to meet some of the neighbours I had not met yet, we exchanged names and pleasantries.  The couple next door who were unable to make it did bring round “a welcome to the neighbourhood” gift, and we discovered that their 2 kids are also adopted.  Perhaps that is all God intended for now?  Becoming a citizen of a community takes time, months, years!  And a robust belief in the sovereignty of God reminds me that: “It is better to take gospel initiatives that fail than to fail to take gospel initiatives.”

Monday morning I spent some time with Gert Roberts from Kingfisher Mobilisation Centre, talking through a possible partnership with them.  I have been spending time with their staff for some time now and I really like what they are trying to do.  They have been encouraging missional church development for over a decade and are now in a number of countries around the world.  Their vision is to work with local churches and church leaders to train and mobilize a missional movement of God’s people both locally and globally.

Tuesday morning dawned a cold and dark morning… it was also the beginning of a committment to get together and pray for Woodstock weekly.  Six muffins, three people, hot coffee and great encouragement in the gospel and in our call to live Kingdom-centred lives here in Woodstock.  Definitely worth getting out of a warm bed for… until next week that is.

I spent the rest of Tuesday morning wrestling with 1 Peter in preparation for my role as pastor to a Scripture Union holiday club in Wellington, outside Cape Town this July.  We are also hoping to run a holiday club for kids in Woodstock during the short September holidays later this year.  Let me know if you want in.

Tuesday evening was time for the pub quiz.  I had no team-mates this week, so I took a deep breath, prayed a prayer and walked up to the Woodstock Lounge.  It really does feel like faking it sometimes – drinking beer, having a laugh, answering some questions and calling it ministry?  But I got to know some of the regulars – faces I recognised – we had some superficial chat and that was it.  Surely I should be doing something more?  And yet I hold on to the sovereignty of God – he is at work.  My call is to be faithful and available as a citizen, friend, good neighbour in Woodstock.  It is God’s fruit to pick!

Wednesday morning was spent with my friend and Intentional Encounters co-worker Colin doing some strategic thinking about the Porterbrook Network – the (UK based) theological training programme for missional leaders that we are trying to develop in South Africa.  I have been tasked with establishing a centralised training centre for Porterbrook in Cape Town.  Contact me if you are interested in learning more about Porterbrook or check out our website here.

Thursday morning was spent with Caleb from Woodstock Community Church, learning a whole lot about life in Woodstock.  Caleb has been here for 7 years and he says people still regard him as “new”.  Listening to some of his story was a great encouragement to see a community of believers living as light, trying, failing, learning, growing –  all the time radiating an obvious love for Christ and his gospel.  I am excited to partner with them in gospel initiatives in Woodstock.

Thursday lunchtime was time for another gathering of the Missional Leaders Network.  This blog post was a useful kick-off for our discussions.  As we shared ideas and stories I was encouraged to hear that some sense of missional identity and rhythms are starting to happen in Mark’s gospel community in the missional wasteland of the suburbs.  I remain convinced that simple church is the simplest and most effective way to reach the sprawling areas of the Cape Flats and the townships surrounding Cape Town.  But while that idea has remained a theory in my head I was over-joyed to hear how Phumezo is busy working it out in Khayelitsha, with seeming great success.  One of their gospel communities have even begun frequenting the local shebeen!

Saturday Evening was a time of great blessing for us, as had about 20 supporters and friends of our ministry around for dinner.  Colin shared something of the vision and strategy for Intentional Encounters, followed by a time of Q ‘n A.  It was a great time of real encouragement and blessing to Jo and  I.  I love that we have a team around us who “get it”!  As one person said to me as she was leaving, “I fully support what you are doing.  I am happy where I am but what you are doing is so necessary!”  And then proceeded to list a number of people they know who though they would never connect with traditional church structures, would probably connect with what Intentional Encounters/ The Crowded House is all about.

Sunday was cold, rainy and time for a well deserved Sabbath.  Read Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love”, played with my boys, ate take-aways and watched some episodes of “The Mentalist” before calling it a night.

Church History: Have we missed the main story?

While working through the Porterbrook Network module on Church History “2000 Years of the Great Commission” I have noticed a few trends:

1) A desire to control (even under the guise of theological orthodoxy) the work of the gospel both from within and without the church has often has as it’s fruit a domesticated church and a dead or dull orthodoxy.  Think Constantine, the Medieval Church,  persecution of the Anabaptists, Victorian England.

2) The reaction to which has often been a grassroots “simple church” reaction, resulting in a spontaneous “missional”movement of the gospel through “ordinary”, untrained men and women.   Key to this has been putting ministry and the Bible (in later post-printing press years) back in the hands of the people.  The Spirit it seems cannot and will not be contained in our structures when they reflect our desire for control and power.  Think the Early Church, the Lollards, the Waldensians, the Anabaptists, the Moravians, even some aspect of John Wesley’s Methodists.

The greatest missional impact has been through these ordinary men and women witnessing in word and deed to the gospel through ordinary life.  Most church history I have read has focussed mainly on the large institutional movements, the great preachers & dissecting the theology of all the main players.  I cannot help but wonder if perhaps we may be missing out on the main story…

3) The times of greatest impact for the church have ofen been the times when Christians have been awakened to their social conscience.  Caring for and loving the poor and needy in the community.  Think the early Church, the 18th Century Great Awakening, William Cary in India.  (This is a fascinating interview with Rodney Stark, a non-Christian social scientist).  Being as Steve Timmis suggests the neighbours everybody wants.

4) Where structure has worked well it has been more in the manner of “apostolic” oversight from roving elders who also allow a great deal of contextual freedom to those “on the ground.”  (The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission by Ralph Winter is very helpful read in this area).  John Wesley’s Methodism is probably the best example of this, although we can also learn from the Early Church

4) Professionalization of the clergy or theologians more often than not has the result of creating a dichotomy between doctrine (the realm of the church) and mission.  Here I would rather go with Newbigin’s assertion that all theology is missional theology in this one.  Missional in that the intent of the Bible is from first to last  about the Mission of God, into which he calls us and invites us to participate.  We cannot therefore teach the Bible, debate theology or do ministry except from a context of mission (local & global).

If you would like to check out some of the Porterbrook Training material, if you are in SA check out our local page or alternatively see the International page.