10 Habits and tips for us Vicars to help us become more missional!

I often get asked to talk at stuff like Deanery Synods, normally because they want someone who is doing something slightly more interesting that re-painting the Church toilets as a good news story to make everyone feel slightly cheerful before they rattle the tin, and start wringing their hands saying “we haven’t got any money!”

I have spoken about lots of projects such as Street Pastors or Pints of View, neither particularly inventive, but rather the truth is it is about keeping the most important thing -the most important thing.

So what is the most important thing? The answer is Jesus, knowing him and making him known, seeing his Kingdom come in his world as it is in heaven.

Most Vicary people would nod at this, here are a few simple things I’ve done/do, that has helped me keep mission at the forefront of what I do, as it is so easy to get sucked into the urgent but trivial of Church busyness.

1) Pray that God gives you opportunities to talk about him. Seems obvious, but so often we have so little expectancy that we will have an opportunity to share something of Christ’s good news. The more we pray the more opportunities present themselves… probably a whole blog I could write on God’s heart for mission.

2) Be local! Be approachable! Smile! Take you lap-top and go into a coffee shop with your dog collar on, or work in the library, if you have a shed-load of boring admin to do, it is amazing how just being present in the community gives us wonderful opportunities to speak to people, also it helps give you a feel for the community as you sit amongst it. I also made a choice to not use the car too much in the parish, as walking about the place gives so many more opportunities for conversations. If I want to lead people in being intentionally missional in their everyday interactions, then I have got to lead by example.

3) Be Easy to find! Make a point of being in the same place at the same time all the time, every Wednesday from 8:00 I was in the Kings Arms, Every Monday Morning I was in Chasers Lounge, you are easy to find and people don’t have to wander into Churches to find you. Sitting in the pub on your own with a dog collar on is incredible hard, it does get easier the more you do it, push through the pain barrier.

Think if people want to chat to you about Jesus/spiritual stuff make it as easy as possible for them to talk to you, we are harder to approach than we think we are!

4) Use social media! I blog reasonably regularly and it amazes me who reads them, I get more people read my blogs than listen to me preach! Many people will explore things online than speak to you face to face. This means however use social media wisely.

5) Town Centre Chaplaincy. About once a month (although it did slip sometimes) I used to get a tin of celebrations or heroes and go around all the shops in the town centre of Kingswood and the High Street of Hanham. Everyone likes chocolate, it is nice to be friendly, it shows the Church cares and is you going to them and listening to what matters to them.

6) Offer to pray for/with people, I have discovered most people are up for being prayed for, the people with the biggest hang ups about praying for people are the Christians offering prayer.

7) Offer to meet up and read the bible with people, sort of bespoke alpha, a friend called this “Simple Church”, just read the Bible chat about it, and chat about life, many folk drop off and it’s often a bit chaotic but also some wonderful opportunities where God’s been wonderfully present. We have a whole load of Bibles from Street Pastors (which look really cool, and have Church details in them, and fit handily into a pocket) and we give them away, people like them because it feels like a nice gift and I normally write a personal message in them about how my prayer is that they know how much God loves them and meet with the risen Jesus who changed my life.

8) Make the most of your ‘occasional offices’ from a follow-up visit after a funeral in Bemerton I was able to see a lovely old fella, Frank, come to a real a beautiful faith in Jesus, he even got baptised and confirmed at Salisbury Cathedral! Weddings and Baptisms are great opportunities to say a lot about the Gospel message gently in a non heavy way. For a Church anniversary we gave a bottle of champagne for the couple who’d been married at the Church for the longest (a very elderly couple that made the local newspaper!) and the most newly wed.

9) Visit and Fresh Expressions! It is amazing how many people have great God dreams and opportunity that just need a bit of encouraging! Today I chatted with a wonderful Christian bloke, who talked about his friend asking about Church and had been a long, his friend his inviting him to play golf but my friend isn’t very good, as we chatted he realised that this was a wonderful opportunity to chat and grow his friendship with a guy whose already expressed an interested in Church and God. My friend Paul planted a Church in the nursing home he worked as a chef in, coming in twice a month for a hymn service with some prayers and a little talk which really blessed the people who came. Too often we try and get people to fill up our rota’s much more exciting to hear about where God is already using them and saying how can we equip, encourage and pray for you!

10) Listen, listen, listen and be respectful. With Street Pastors I used to say “hold back, listen and bless” and I got slated for it, but the more we held back, listened and blessed people the more people asked more about Jesus. A verse I always use is “always be prepared to give an account that you have, but do so with gentleness and respect”.


In search of Utopia?

I wrote a blog yesterday, entitled “don’t want to play anymore” looking at the frustrations with some aspects of Church -not just the more old fashioned CofE stuff but also the ‘hip and trendy’ style over substance types too more modern types too.

The challenges the Church faces actually are more to do with the heart which is outworked in various ways. It is true that on occasions I have got caught up with some of these and maybe even been -to some degree complicit in it- but I don’t want to be any more!

The challenge I get sometimes is that I need to be “more pragmatic” and “less idealistic” about my desire to see things change, and reminded that we are all fallen people. This is of course true, but only partly true, I think that even though we are dealing with complex people in a fallen world doesn’t mean we don’t strive, encourage, challenge and fight for us all to become more the people that God wants us to be.

The truth is as Church we can all take our responsibility for being better than we are, we can all be part of change and transformation. Although the Church will never be perfect this side of eternity we can be better than we are at the moment. We all have some part to play in its reformation and transformation.

The problem is I believe too much of the Church in this country has got a bad attitude of complacency, apathy, consumerism and resistance to change. Why? Because deep down we struggle with this stuff too. Yet a bad attitude is like a flat tyre in so much as you can’t go anywhere until it is fixed -and the more you keep going with a bad attitude the more you knacker the vehicle you are in. I know that I -with my sin- is part of the problem, yet Christ in his redeeming love and through his Holy Spirit’s transforming power, I can be part of the solution. I want to say “yes” to God on this. “Here am I, Lord, send me”.

When I was in parish life I used to talk about being the kind of Church Jesus wants us to be. So, if Jesus was our treasurer are we spending our money on the things that would make him say “well done good and faithful servants!” or would it be like the time he lost his rag in the temple!

When I was a Vicar one of my questions was “if Jesus was planning my diary, what would my week look like?” and am I brave enough to do it?

If Jesus was leading us in worship, what might that look like? And if he had the Churches evangelism in his grasp what would he do with it?

And then I remembered that actually we do believe that Jesus is the Lord and King of his Church, the money and resources within it, the one who guides our time, brings us into his presence and sends us out into his world to transform it by the heralding in of more of his Kingdom. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. This is how our lives and our Churches ought to look.

The ideal and the reality sadly too often look a million miles apart, but I believe the call of God is to bridge this gap between the reality and the dream of the Kingdom of God, his heartbeat and his hearts desire.

I want to be like David where God called him “a man after God’s own heart” and I’ve told the Churches I was involved with that I want him to be able to say that of us too “we are people after God’s own heart”.

I long for people to be able to look at the Church and see Jesus, rather than too often they see all our fallen-ness.

As we step out in faith we discover that “the one who calls is faithful!”.

A phrase I used to use (which got me in trouble) was “Jesus wants his Church back” -Jesus is coming for his bride!

So much in the Bible is calling the bride to be ready, wake, alert with an abundance of the oil of the spirit.

Yet too often we have settled for a Church that has religious trappings but is so far short of what I see in the book of Acts. In fact (although a little cheesey!) the Acts of the Apostles are called that because the Apostles er Acted, they did the stuff.

The future belongs to those who invest in the present.

Perhaps the problem is that we have become all to used to the status quo? I believe God is wanting to transform our understanding of what it means to BE Church? What does it really mean to be a Christian Community?

Yesterday was the 500th anniversary of Luther’s reformation. It made me think, perhaps the next reformation is not just about ‘orthodoxy’ (right doctrine)but rather about orthopraxy (right living).

What we believe is of course really important, but too often our lives are shouting too loudly for them to hear what is coming out of our mouths.

How can we grow a Church that looks different from the one we have inherited? How to we build a different future? How do we re-write the broken record of the same habits and behaviour re-occurring? How do we lift our eyes from the debris of well-meaning faithlessness of the past to grab all that God has for us in the present?

Thinking of the Christ who turned over tables, maybe this is the time to collectively say “we are not playing anymore?” and a call to live and be Church differently. A call maybe to a new reformation where we try and act like followers of Jesus. Radical and dangerous, and will annoy the Pharisees in our congregations who want empty religion, and will probably annoy us ourselves as confront our own religious baggage that has got entangled over the years with our own Pharisee-esk leanings!

I am reminded of Wimber’s great prayer “Lord, Send revival and start with me!”.

Shane Claiborne said: “stop moaning about the Church we have and start building the Church we dream of!”

Maybe people might read this and scoff, and think I am dreaming of a Utopia that can never be realised, and maybe that is true, but I think that longing and groaning for Christ and his Kingdom is actually part of the call to follow Christ, and becoming comfortable in the sinful behaviours of our cultures is not part of his call.

Bill Hybels refers to this feeling as “Holy Discontent” that longing for change and to be changed.

There is an old adage of “if you aim at nothing you are sure to hit it” I believe this is a season where God is calling us to “aim for the Kingdom of Heaven afresh”, to raise our game, to be match fit, to see Christ’s Kingdom on earth -in Poole/Bournemouth/Kingswood/Bristol/where-ever- as in Heaven.

Perhaps some tables might need to be kicked over, some conversations need to get uncomfortable, the ‘Pharisee’ getting offending as we step out of what has been and into a new normal, becoming more and more the Church of Jesus Christ in this nation, a Christianity that once again looks, feels, tastes and smells more like Jesus.


Don’t want to play anymore.

A slightly more down-beat blog than yesterdays.

Sometimes when you step away, you know what you don’t want to pick up again, what you are not called for.

I drifted into our local Church here, and all the old feels came rushing back.

Sometimes, sat in a building on an hour on a Sunday with your eyes scrolling down a notice sheet advertising jumble sales and could Mrs. Smith have your old jam jars for the Christmas market something inside of me just dies. I don’t want to play anymore.

So fed up with fundraising events, Church being desperate for cash and rattling the tin loudly, so loudly that no-one would ever believe we believe in a God who provides!

Keeping the show on the road, propped up by bring and buy sales, raffles and guess the weight of the cake. Somehow this doesn’t feel faith-filled or Kingdom building, and I don’t want to play any more!

Feb up of being sat in meetings all about keeping the show on the road, when perhaps it badly needs a pit-stop?

Endless bickering in rota meetings, Church politics around flowers, the ‘old stagers’ covering everything they can get their hands on with laminated notices designed to mark territory ‘don’t move this’/’don’t eat these biscuits or use these tea bags” reminding people that they are in charge, guests unwelcome, territory marked in much the same way as my dog does with lamp-posts. I don’t want to play any more.

Meeting with an atmosphere you could cut with a knife, when Jesus said: “by this all people will know that you are my disciples that you love one another”. The whole murky world of Church politics, with 101 unpleasant emails floating about, I really don’t want to play any more.

Drinking coffee and making polite small-talk with the parents of people you used to hang around with, thinking surely the Christian idea of fellowship and Christian family is meant to be more than this. I don’t want to play anymore!

I’m tired of hearing Christians talking a great game but when it really matters are no where to be seen. I don’t want to play anymore, just show up or shut up!

Churches that always promise jam tomorrow, but never live in the present, fuzzy wishful thinking that never gets grasped into plan of action making the dream of God a reality here on earth. Don’t raise my hopes if you don’t really intend to do anything in reality.

Others that live in the past, when it seemed like the Vicars were perfect and the Sunday School was full, although you sneakily expect that when this particularly sainted clergy-person was in post they were beaten over the head by how much better their predecessor was than you.

Again, I don’t want to play -or be a part of these games anymore.

Perhaps God needs to work in me? Perhaps I have got bitter and need to let stuff go and forgive, or perhaps I’m seeing things with more the eyes of Christ? Maybe a mixture of both, as I struggle to wrestle through what is me, what is God?

Perhaps too we need to Godly irritants asking those hard an uncomfortable questions? Without a bit of grit oysters never produce pearls?

I have for too long stood in many big Churches -and festivals- thinking it all looks and sounds so samey, the same songs, up-beat talks peppered with the odd Bible verses studiously avoiding the difficult questions in the passage and the text, looking at the stage bathed in soft coloured lighting where everyone had the right t’shirt, trendy hipster beards (and that’s just the girls) and perfectly hair-straightened hairstyles (and that’s just the boys!). I wondered was I just the only one not feeling it? Maybe, I’m just too jaded and cynical now -I probably am!

The verse struck me about “deep crying out to deep” and I thought “I don’t want to play at this anymore”.

My soul is hungry for fresh encounter and real spiritual food wrestling with my souls questions and struggles and Church seems to leave me feeling like I’ve been to McDonalds, pleasant at the time but moments later leaves you feeling both bloated and hungry at the same time, and deeply unfulfilled.

I have sat through so many ‘going through the motions’ home-groups that call themselves ‘discipleship’ when people talk about the Bible with all the passion and enthusiasm that you’d have discussing the weather. People showing off their Bible knowledge sat on a sofa pontificating but yet not following through in living it out.

So many conversations with Christians moaning about this or that, this choice or that idea, but this grumbling never seems to lead into creating new, better, more Godly dreams… I’m fed up of hearing with whingeing windbags, let’s stop moaning and start building.

We turn up for Bible study knowing deep down that our need is greater application in our lives that greater information in our heads.

Shane Claiborne talked of Church discipleship where people sing “Just as I am” and “Leave just as they were” and “behave as they always have”. I want to be changed, I want to be more like Christ, I want less of my sin and junk, and more of his Kingdom and the fruits of his Spirit. I’m fed up of singing songs which it feels like no-one is really meaning, and maybe I am being judgemental, do I mean them myself -yes, well most of the time, sometimes I want to want to mean them, occasionally I want to, want to, want to mean them.

I want to be real about my doubts, and when I feel down and low not to hide it with a Tony Blair-esk smile, but I’ve ben doing this for 40 years and doing a new normal scares me.

I want to see communities transformed, more than a litter picks or giving out chocolates (not that they are bad things, -and have done them both- but I want something deeper more real and less superficial). David talked about a sacrifice that has cost him nothing not being worth much. Too much evangelism in the Church is nice, nice evangelism that makes us feel better but does little to bring people into a real transformative encounter with Christ, I don’t want to play anymore, I want to do the real thing, I want to roll my sleeves up and arrive at heavens door bruised and bleeding but having seen the glory of God too.

Yet, I am also tired and burned out, given my all, to congregations that take and take and take some more, and probably will do the same to someone else and someone else after that. An awkward parting handshake before they take up the knife again for a new victim. Yet I want to see these ungodly cycles broken. The backstabbers laying down their weapons and embracing the way of love, although I haven’t got a clue how that’s going to happen, feel overwhelmed and powerless to change some of these people, but know that my God is able to do what I can’t, in fact able to do immeasurably more than I can ask or imagine.

I don’t want to put my faith in Christ down to “youthful naivety” and spend the rest of my life downsizing my vision of what God can do, clipping the wings of my dreams and desires for the Kingdom, ending it all with full pension and an empty heart.

I remember singing “There must be more than this, come breath of God breath deep within” and then the chorus “Consuming fire, fan into flame a passion for your name” that desire for more of God and all that he has. Real faith, not just Christian-eaze or empty religious rhetoric.

And Joy. I hear lots about joy, in fact Christians can make you feel very guilty if you’re not full of joy, but I want to experience this more as reality in my life not just something I know I should but not really experiencing.

So, amid the confusion, the pain, the questions, the desire for more, for deeper and more real in this tangled mess, I’m saying “I don’t want to just play at being a follower of Jesus, I want the real thing”.

I don’t want the child’s toys -the dressing up clothes- but to live this life for real, properly and authentically.

Jesus, you are too important to follow just by going through the motions of what other people have reduced you too, show me what it means to truly live my life your way.


A blank Canvas?

It has been just under a month since I left ordained ministry, and was asked yesterday “Do I miss it?” I thought for a minute and the truth is “no”, I miss some of the people there.

I do miss seeing God at work and seeing and being part of his Kingdom being built. Although I have discovered that the Kingdom is all around, yesterday I caught up with some friends, some of whom I have not seen for years, and sharing life with them, and opportunity to talk something about Jesus.

Perhaps just a case of ‘moving fields’ a new -or a return- to an area but God has been remained and continues to work here.

In many ways it feels like moving from the desert to a Bible-belt -47 Churches in Poole, do they need another Church? (There are still thousands of people in Poole/Bournemouth that don’t know Jesus!) but perhaps it might be more of a call to help Churches work together better? Perhaps a call help is all re-align us to the stuff we are supposed to be doing -heralding in the Kingdom of God, preaching the gospel, signs and wonders, fighting for justice, peace and reconciliation, combating poverty and pain with love… Seeing the Kingdom come in Poole/Bournemouth as it is in heaven.

In Kingswood and Hanham the Churches were struggling and it did feel like whatever you did in the community to make Jesus known you weren’t treading on anyone’s feet and any work that happened would be a ‘welcome addition’, the biggest problem in Kingdom was huge gaping potential but very little and limited resources to meet the avalanche of potential opportunities.

Here the question feels, “where do I fit?” “Where are the gaps?” “What is God calling me/us to do?”

It is true we have an ever-growing community on our doorstep as new builds surround us, and Allana has done a wonderful job getting to know neighbours and mums from our daughters school.

I have a couple of potential part-time job opportunities but that is not the same as a call. God where are you calling? God what are you saying?

I don’t want to run ahead of God… Nor lag behind.

I don’t want to be waiting patiently missing opportunities all around me, but I don’t want to be to busy to do that which I’m called to do.

In a place like Kingswood it was okay to be broad-brushstrokes, often feeling like a massive bonfire of wet wood and only a very small match to try and ignite it with.

Yet, here maybe a need to listen more carefully and end up with something unique and bespoke rather than just replicating more of what is already happening elsewhere, keeping my eyes and ears attempted to the expert navigator to where his call can flourish.

I wonder do we too often paint in broad-brushstrokes when God is wanting bespoke, or perhaps we are trying to be bespoke when God is wanting broad brush-strokes. Watching fishermen fishing with lines recently, and also seen the boats going out with industrial nets, both are effective but vastly different, which is God calling us to do.

In one sense too as I am currently without a Bishops Licence (although that will come I’m sure) I am just back to being a ‘normal bloke who loves Jesus and wants to serve him’, no official role, no uniform, just me and God…

Yet too there is another element to this, where it is a once in a life time opportunity to seek God with a blank canvas, an opportunity not to just do more of the same but in a different place, but rather to find the new dream of God, a new future, a path perhaps untrodden, or at least not much trodden, a call from the comfortable and the familiar to out of the boat and out of the comfort zone.

Often I think we are too busy, our canvas is too covered in paint, that we never take the opportunity to dream afresh with God.

Perhaps we have dreamt a while back and now the dream needs refreshing or revitalising? Maybe the dream was yesterdays’ manna and God has new manna for today?

Awaiting a new dream is both exciting and a little scary, but also being ready to receive what God has for us, sadly I have known people of great potential that disqualify themselves whilst waiting, easy in the waiting time to drift into bad and ungodly habits, waiting and seeking often shows us the uncomfortable things in us that God needs to deal with. We want to be ‘match fit’ when the call comes.

A call to align our priorities with Gods heart, working out how our callings call harmonise together for God’s glory in faithful obedience of all that he has called us too.

Perhaps too the dream feels too big, the call too large, we need God’s Spirit of boldness and courage to enable us to be faithful.

Perhaps the dream seems too small, maybe we need the humility to obey a call that feels beneath us, -often in the small and insignificant we find with hindsight that we were in fact part of God’s greater plan.

So, at the point in a new journey, sat before the blank canvas saying “Where Lord?”

Reminded of Jesus first recorded miracle (according to John) of the Water into Wine, when Mary said: “Do whatever he tells you!”

And echoing the call of Samuel: “speak Lord for your servant is listening!”


Top10tips. Working with guys.

1) Work on your own personal discipleship. If you want to see other people come to know Jesus make sure it’s real for you, after all you wouldn’t trust a skinny chef. Maybe get a prayer partner and have some accountability and be real about issues like lust, porn and masturbation as if you are battling this stuff alongside guilt, shame and condemnation it is going to effect your fruitfulness in all that Christ has for you. Interestingly when I was in my 20’s was part of a lads prayer group and about 9 months into praying together one guy shared about lust issues -and all of us confessed to having these too, just none of us had the courage to be real and vulnerable. Yet when we started to get real this became the catalyst for God doing so much more in each of us.

2) Make sure all your time is not being sucked into the Christian bubble, if it is make a priority to meet and socialise with people who aren’t Christians yet.

3)Be A Good Mate.
Be friendly, invite people to things (not just Christian stuff) and accept invites to stuff too -it’s got to be two way! Often the only time we invite people to anything is something for missional for Church, rather than building meaningful relationships with those around us. Even if your friend never expresses any interest in finding out more about Jesus, still be a good mate, and keep on praying -don’t treat people like projects.

4) Pray. If we want to see peoples lives changed, then the most powerful thing we can do is pray for them.

5) Authenticity. Make sure that people know what you are inviting them too, if it has spiritual input let them know, it’s okay if they say they don’t want to come, don’t hide it from them as people feel tricked, and don’t assume either that they won’t be interested, give them the option to say no or yes!

6) Think about all the stuff we do as Church is it accessible to everyone? I used to help out every week at our Café Tots group, and we had a few dads who came, and we were one of the few groups they felt welcome in, and they became friends. Often these type events can feel exclusive for dads. Often older peoples groups can be exclusively old ladies, but with a bit of thought sometimes it only takes a bit of thought and care to make it work for older gents too. Even Messy Church often has crafts that have a ton of glitter and sparkles and ran by ladies, perhaps include activities like construction, running around games and lego -interestingly I reckon that lots of girls would love this sort of stuff too! And Church itself, lots of flowers, cup-cakes, drapes, lovey dovey songs (“isn’t he beautiful?”) and ‘Jesus loves you’ sermons -maybe could re-think this a little too!

7) Chat to other Christians, and other Christian blokes, see how you can help and encourage one another to be more fruitful in seeing Christ made known. If you already have a guys group don’t keep doing what you’ve always done, but maybe take time to ask some of those tough questions, ask one another how we could encourage each other, pray for one another, dream dreams for and with one another. Help one another, maybe learn a bit from one another, support one another, and if you meet other peoples friends, again be friendly, normal and inclusive.

8) Events and socials, don’t leave it up to your church to organise stuff, gather people together and do things together, share lives together. Things don’t have to have a talk in them for God to work through them, just talk to one another about life and stuff and talk about faith with honesty but not too pushy.

9) Be real for you, use your passions and hobbies -have seen some great things happen around cycling, beer festivals, nerdy sci-fi films, speedway, football be yourself and real about your interests etc. It is okay too to be vulnerable, and okay not to have all the answers,

10) In all of this, make sure you maintain your commitment and a priority to your spouse and your kids. It is great to have a weekend away with the boys, but realise that your wife could well have been left at home with the kids, maybe take some time out the following week with the kids so she can do something she likes. Too often those nearest us suffer from our desire to save the world for Christ, but remember being a husband and a dad is a high calling as well.


Having a passion for blokes…

“Here’s Steve who has a passion for blokes”.
Was how a speaker was described who had a desire to be involved in outreach to guys, I sniggered inappropriately into my coffee (wishing it was a beer!)

Yet clearly there is a problem. I remember doing Street Pastors -where we chat to lots of people most of whom aren’t likely to step into a Church anytime soon-my friend (who they call Sparky, a skin-headed and Rovers Fan) had struck up a friendship with one of the door staff, Alan, and handed him a flyer for the Alpha we were running in the club itself in the midweek. Alan, took the flyer, and said: “cheers mate, I’ll give this to my Mrs!”

For some reason Alan seemed to think ‘religion’ as he’d call it wasn’t for him.

Yet, I don’t reckon this is because guys don’t think about the deep things that really matter, I recently used to run “Pints of View” which ended up as a Church Service in a pub, but started off just wandering into the pub with my ‘dog collar’ on and chatting to whoever came in about anything they wanted.

Often (and maybe this is a Bristol thing) they’d ask the person behind the bar “what’s the Vicar drinking” and they’d plonk a pint in front of me, and then ask me a tough question. On the first time I did this a guy said “I was involved in the first Iraq war, and I saw and did some awful stuff, do you reckon you God could ever forgive me!” Often I’ve been approached with comments like “although I’m not religious, can you pray for my…”

Often, I have found that blokes are just normal people, and speaking about a real God involved in real peoples lives can be normal too, if you do it wisely, prayerfully, authentically without a ton of clichés and unhelpful “churchy-lingo”.

Often we have made ministry to guys more complicated than it needs to be.

My starting point is that surely Jesus is good news for everyone, and any group that are missing in our Churches is a tragedy, and one which I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to partner with him in transforming and changing this.

Recently I was at a chapter meeting -a group of Vicars- where nearly everyone apart from me and my friend Chris from Bradley Stoke were a semi-posh-bloke-in their 50’s talking about “How to reach the under 40’s?” It got a bit daft, to the point where if I bit my tongue any longer I might do myself serious damage. I cringed and said “those of us under 40 aren’t a weird species from Mars you’ve never met before!”

The same is true for ministry and outreach to guys, we’re just normal people you come across everyday, your neighbours, kids or colleagues.

Every second person male!

We make up approximately 50% of the population!

Yet when we look at many of our congregations in the UK, many are predominantly female.

Often as a scruffy, ale-drinking, hairy leftie, thirty something dad, I look at most of the activities Churches put on and think I’m not sure I want to go.

The question that has run through most of my Vicaring has been, if I wasn’t the Vicar would I want to come along to this.

To be honest my ‘strategy’ for reaching guys has been much the same as for everyone else, see Christians not only fired up for evangelism and praying for those around us, and helping us be more confident, empowered and equipped to talk about their faith both normally and frequently, with the expectation that people are hungry for the things of God, and that God’s Holy Spirit will be at work through his faithful peoples obedience.

Yet sometimes I feel that there are times when we need to help and encourage Christians in outreach to various groups, to encourage them to meet and mix with people they might not normally meet. Or speak to people about faith who they assume wouldn’t be interested. Recently I was involved in a mission called “The Turning” and the most common piece of feedback was “I didn’t think they’d be interested, but they were!” -echoes with our findings on the Street with Street Pastors. Bishop Lee Rayfield had a great piece of advice “Don’t say “no” for people” -in other words, offer the good news of Jesus with expectancy too everyone, not just those we think might say yes, as are frequently surprised at God working in and through the most unlikely people (in fact I’d suggest it is something he specialises in!)

Helping people realise that their male friends, family, colleagues and neighbours might be interested in God, is often the first hurdle we have to over-come in outreach.

The second is that God could be calling us to do something about it, to chat to guys about Jesus you just have to love Jesus and have a pulse! Two of the people that helped me most in my journey of (re)commitment were both women, somehow we think that only blokes can talk to other blokes about Jesus (its not true!). Also, we seem to believe that if we are talking to guys we have to sometimes be uber-blokey, but the truth is we are just called to be ourselves, if you aren’t a steak eating, beer-drinking, football-loving, flatulent, bearded, sweaty type that’s okay just be yourself, in fact most blokes aren’t mega-blokey just like most women aren’t into everything pink and sparkly, don’t let gender stereotypes keep you from talking about Jesus to those about us.

If we believe that firstly guys might be interested in the things of God, and secondly that God can (in fact, longs) to use us in reaching our to our brothers (and sisters) who don’t know him.

The third thing, like with all evangelism, are we prepared to do the journey with people? Too often we invite them to an event, and then abdicate our responsibilities.

Some people I have known is has taken a while of a friendship -literally years- before people say “yes” to coming along to something Christian, taken a long time hanging around on the edge of Christian stuff, and wobbled to and from Churchy stuff. Trying to accompany them faithfully as a mate on this journey isn’t always easy. Other people are ripe and really ready and up for finding out more about faith quite quickly. Again we are called to accompany these guys too. The Spiritual midwifery is different for everyone, when we find Christ we see the Holy Spirits revelation is ‘bespoke’ for us all, and too often we do our outreach as a ‘one size fits all’.

For me, our understanding of missional responsibilities need to change, each of us are responsible for being “Christ’s ambassadors”, “Salt and light” where-ever we go. The Church, is about empowering and equip us all to do this as well as we can on our frontlines, and sometimes to support this we might put on some facilitating events. The local ‘indigenous missionary’ needs to see if this can help support them in their day to day mission where-ever they go.

The problem is too many Christian guys let Churchiness fill their lives, perhaps give the bible study a miss and go to the pub and shoot some Pool with your mates (most Christians don’t need to hear another sermon, but rather need to put it into practice!), perhaps that Church meeting about the lines in the car park could be missed too? -And maybe even if you’ve had a busy day and you want to veg in-front of the telly and you really can’t be bothered perhaps God is calling you to have a bit of self discipline and go and phone a friend, or go to footie training or the gym with your friends (paradoxically, often these things we have to force ourselves to do, we normally are glad we’ve done later on!)

I would suggest too, that as Christians we ought to be going to their events -pub quizzes, bbqs, football-matches ect- not just expecting them to come to our things, to often we only invite people to Christian stuff making them feel like they are our project and we want to see them saved as a spiritual scalp or team point.

The Church only is fruitful when its members are faithful.

Too often we think of evangelism and mission being Church-centric trying to ‘do’ evangelism ‘at’ people, rather than seeing themselves as trying to support individual missionaries, whom they are praying for and talking with regularly.

When we do put on events are they really aimed at blokes who are not used to Church? I have been in the awkward position of taking people to things, and feeling let down as the event has really not been ‘user-friendly’.

Also, as we think about all we do, through the eyes of mission and outreach, how often do we think of how accessible we are to all people groups? Yet sometimes are Churches aren’t as welcoming to blokes -especially those of us who would call ourselves ‘working class’- as we could be.

Over the past 8 years I have tried so many different types of working with guys, I feel like I could write the definitive “how not too” book as we have tried many things to reach out to guys, made many mistakes, but learned many lessons along the way.

The two biggest pit-falls seem to be either:

A) We end up with exclusively Christian events, often in Church, sometimes even with sung worship -and huggy guys in socks with sandals and beards that call everyone brother- but labelled as “mission” or “outreach”, they may preach and evangelistic message but everyone who is there is already thoroughly churchy already!

It is great for guys to hang out, and great to have fellowship, but is this actually isn’t doing anything to help those who don’t know him, the problem of Church is too often we are a holy huddle, a clique.

B) Or we do some uber-blokey special events, the paint-balling or eye-watering curries (good curry always burns twice!). Great events, and people enjoy them but they happen very infrequently, the Church feels good about doing something but doesn’t see people moving on a journey towards Jesus.

Yet, somehow I don’t want the irregular and spectacular, as too often it feels like we try to put on a big event to ‘short-cut’ the difficult job of relationships, we publish the photos on our facebook, and feel a bit smug and wait 6 months to do it again, but I do wonder whether it actually has much fruit for the Kingdom? Often too, our big events feel more like ‘treats for the clique’ than a thought-through evangelistic strategy.

I’ll close this blog with what I have begun to discover might be a third way, a messier and less clear way but one that feels more authentically of the Kingdom. Forming real friendships with people who aren’t yet Christians, loving them even if they never become Christians -that doesn’t mean you don’t pray for them! Sharing life with them, being real about life’s problems and real about your faith. Hang out, go to their stuff and invite them to yours. Walk the walk with them, and make it as easy as possible for them to journey at their pace to faith.

I’ll close with two stories:

The first was a week or so before I left, I went down the pub with some mates who occasionally do a pub quiz together. At the end of the evening we began to speak about some real and deep stuff, just naturally, it wasn’t forced and I realised that I really should have spent more time hanging out with these guys than the hours I had wasted at umpteen meetings at Church that never decided anything of any significance.

The second was a couple of years ago, my friend Chris turned 30, and we all climbed the welsh three peaks, we did it for an anti-child-trafficking charity LOVE 146. We had some Christian mates and some who weren’t Christians, we also had some who were struggling a bit with their faith too. We spent a weekend together slogging it out up mountains, we were open about our faith and the mess of life, we even prayed at the beginning of the climb and at the end of the journey -and the guys who weren’t Christians were really respectful. There was some grumbling and bickering as we were tired and disagreeing a bit, beers too were consumed at the end, occasionally the language slipped a bit too. Wasn’t set up as an outreach, but did feel as though Jesus was right there in the midst of us.

So, rather than trying to ‘put on events’ maybe let’s embrace a bigger quest to see Jesus glorified in all we do, be always ready to speak about him in a wise, gentle and respectful way, building real relationships with people, and as we share life and journey faithfully may we see those around us encountering and being transformed by Jesus Christ.


#metoo some thoughts…

The hashtag #metoo has been really prevalent on facebook and twitter recently.

For those of you that have escaped this phenomenon, a disgraced Hollywood Producer Harvey Winestein has been accused of sexually harassing (and one account of rape) of a (ever-growing) number of women, and the #metoo hashtag is women standing in solidarity with these women saying they have also been sexually harassed on occasions.

Also, as with any popular meme there has been much shared around the subject of harassment.

One of the most interesting -and honest- things I read on facebook was from a girl who said she felt she had sexually harassed guys thinking she was being “flirty and fun”.

The truth is that although this is something that many women are talking about now, it is actually a problem bigger than gender, but a problem of humanity, the challenge is the way we treat, view, respect and think about one another is at the heart of this all.

Another thing I found really interesting was a blog by another friend, who said although he’s never harassed anyone sexually, he knows he has involved in the objectification of women and has not done all he could to advocate a society where all such abuses of power are not tolerated.

As I read this post I was reminded of the phrase by Edmund Burke “for evil to prosper all it takes is for good people to do nothing”.

This is something that I resonated with, I know that Jesus’ command that “if you even look at a woman lustfully you have committed adultery with her in your heart” is one I have -to my shame- broken on occasions.

I certainly haven’t been as ‘salty’ and as much of a ‘light shining in darkness’ on this as I should have been, maybe even guilty of colluding with the darkness on occasions.

Maybe we all share some culpability for the way the world is today in the way we have tried to rip sex and love apart in a way that breaks the heart of our creator? Seeing people as objects rather than people with feelings and value.

As I began to think about things some more, I remember having the old debate about Christians and the whole “sex outside marriage” with someone exploring faith (a big deal in our current society). I remember talking about Alkali burns -what is missing (acid) is what causes the burns, in the case of sex the love and commitment being removed from most sexual encounters is why so many of our generation are left with deep emotional scars from past sexual activity they now regret. He laughed and said that if he could turn the clock back he’d do things so differently now as his life has been plagued by regret of hurting people in the past. “I never thought I’d end up agreeing with a Vicar on ‘no sex outside marriage'” he laughed. He then said “I guess it leads to less sex but at least you can look yourself in the eye in the mirror!”

To be honest I’ve not always been all I have wanted to be in this area, so I’m not sure I could entirely look myself in the eye, but he had hit upon an important truth that God is not out to spoil our fun, but actually is about “life in all its abundance”, wanting the best for the people he created and loves.

I was waiting to meet a friend for lunch and the Sun newspaper was on the bar (a paper I hate almost as much as the Daily Mail!) and it was slamming someone in the public eye for alleged behaving inappropriately towards a woman. Yet this outrage seemed somewhat ironic as knowing that on the next page (p.3) there would be a scantily clad woman, and as many as they could get away with squeeze into the next few pages of their vile tory rag.

The Sun’s outrage felt ironic, not seeing how their behaviour and misogyny, has probably encouraged many a ‘mini winestein’ to objectify other human-beings.

It struck me as ironic the moral outrage at Winestein and the sycophantic praise of Hugh Hefner, yet no questions about the way he has caused objectification, stylised and air-brushed ‘idolised’ women, and made money from exploitation women in his magazines and the men who bought them too?

As I thought about this for a moment, I remembered a story a friend told me when he was having a driving lesson with a real sleaze-ball who kept leering at women out the window, he made some comment about some girl they drove past. My friend turned on him and said “that’s my sister you’re on about!” The man instantly apologised.

Yet to me this emphasised the double standard we have within our society , where it is okay to harbour such thoughts -but not against anyone you know-.

There is a maximum I remember hearing as a teenager “look but don’t touch” but the truth is if you look, you become tempted to touch.

This dreadful behaviour I believe would be less prevalent if we realised that our first line of defence is to do with what and how we think, rather than what we do. Sorting our mind out first will have a knock on effect to our actions too, our hearts and our minds are our first line of defence.

From our hearts and minds everything else flows. The problem is when we put rubbish into our hearts and minds through what we view/listen too/think about then unsurprisingly its fruit is rotten too -rubbish in, rubbish out-.

For me, the most challenging thing was when I had a baby daughter, I grasped something of the heartbeat of God, just as I’d want to kill anyone who looked at her inappropriately (my planned line for her first boyfriend is “remember I do funerals for a living!”), God must have the same pain and anger at anyone who looks at any of his children with predatory and unscrupulous desires in their heart.

When we think on how God sees us, and then realise that is passionate love for us is also his passionate love for all his has made, the good father with no favourites.

Then as I wandered back home, I saw “50 Shades of Grey” on Sale in WH Smiths (a popular but unpleasant trilogy of an abusive and controlling relationship written in a way that seeks to normalise and romanticising exploitation and sexual violence). I shuddered as memories came flooding back of things I have heard from times working in rehab and some instances of Domestic Violence I have come across from parishioners over the last 20 odd years of ministry. Exploiting people for their own gratification, brings us back to the heart of what the #metoo thing is all about. Yet, if you attack 50 Shades of Grey you get a backlash saying it is harmless fun, but degrading human-beings is contrary to the way of the cross of Christ, and is neither harmless or fun.

As I thought on, I was reminded of a situation of a couple who exploited a lot of money out of a vulnerable family they were staying with. It made me realise that this warped mind-set can exist where-ever there is opportunity.

The tragedy is we live in a society where it is acceptable -normal even- to see people not ultimately as valuable in their own right people but rather about how they make us feel, which is not only dehumanising and degrading for all involved.

The problem is we live in an “explain and blame” culture where we never take responsibility for our actions, even if 50shades the perpetrator of this abuser was himself a victim of abuse himself. We forget that we can break cycles as well as perpetuate them, histories do not have to repeat themselves.

Perhaps the #metoo hashtag can challenge us to think of the times the world has treated us badly (and seeing these #metoo hashtags has been heart-breaking, and deeply worrying of a dad of a daughter).

Perhaps the #metoo hashtag can challenge us to think of the times when we perhaps have not always treated one another as we should have.

Perhaps too, we might take a moment to think of the words of Jesus “what you do to the least of these you did to me” -that every time we treat anyone as less than human that is how we are treating Jesus.

Yet the reverse is true, every time we honour, respect, value and love another human-being treating them in a righteous way we are bringing blessing, honour and glory to Jesus too.

The call to follow Jesus is the call to turn this “upside down and broken world” the “right way up” for Christ.

So, as a challenge, we probably all could write #metoo as people that have not been treated with the dignity, love and respect due to being a human-being made in the image of God.

Yet can probably -and tragically write #metoo that we have not also always treated one another in the same love, respect and dignity that befits them as a beloved and cherished child of God.

And let’s be people that can write #metoo to being people that seek to re-write the narrative about how we as human-beings treat one another, value one another, think about one another.


No regrets? -Some more thoughts on moving.

The phrase “No regrets” I think is an interesting phrase because surely there will always be things that you wanted to be different, dreams that didn’t take flight, things you wished you had handled differently, mistakes made and people who let you down.

I think anyone who has done anything will look back and have some regrets and disappointments.

True, the phrase “no regrets” could be about whether we choose to live in the past and the pain of the sadness that some of these things have caused, and no one wants people to live in that place of pain. Yet, I worry that often we encourage one another to have such a ‘thick skin’ that we become immune to these pains, which although horrible do teach us valuable lessons.

The question is how to look at the past, and even reflect wisely and critically on things and be honest about the pain, and learn from them, to be better in the future. Often we just shut the door on these regrets, to painful often to even articulate, and say to ourselves “it doesn’t matter” or “let’s move on”, but the problem is when they are unresolved they can eat you up inside, often the do actually really matter, and although we say “we’re moving on” our regrets often cause future paralyse.

There are times in the past 11 years of Vicaring, where I have had a lot of flack for things, sometimes I mishandled situations, others I would do again even though it was painful, deep down I believed it was the right thing to do.

I have plenty of regrets and sadness about my time in Kingswood, as well as many joys too, but if you go through life and had no regrets I would suggest that perhaps your dream was too small, or your heart too stony, and maybe your commitment to the cause too weak?

As we deal with this painful and thorny issue of regrets, it reminds me that we are can bring these to Christ, James urges us to “cast your burdens of the Lord for he cares for you”.

In him we have security because our value in not reliant on whether we ‘hit’ or ‘missed’ the mark, on whether or choices we popular or not, but we are loved because we are loved, because we are loved.

Yet with our regrets too, we need to find a perspective, we all like to be liked and we all like to be affirmed, and yet often we have an unduly pessimistic view where despite umpteen affirmations the thing we remember is the one critical comment, the thousands of card of gratitude we remember the old lady that unfriends us on facebook, the bitchy jibe from a friend or whatever it was for you. Again, remembering that actually we live for the audience of one, the only one in fact that really matters, Jesus Christ.

Words that are spectacularly easy to type, but incredibly hard to actually do!

Forgiveness, one of those things that everyone thinks is a good idea until they have something to forgive. Speaking on Sunday to a wonderful former Vicars wife, who said it took over a year to forgive some of the things that were done to them in her last parish. She understood something profound that forgiveness is not a one of action, but a daily walk, and on-going choice and journey, and a difficult one.

Forgiveness actually sets us free. Yet bitterness entraps us, and can -if not dealt with- can destroy us.

We cannot live in the past, but as President John F. Kennedy said: “Those who fail to learn from history are deemed to re-live it”.

Yet, we don’t have to face the past alone, we can re-visit the past again with our hand held by our loving heavenly Father -who is also the most High God- learning, forgiving, surrendering, healing and restoring.

The problem is not whether we have regrets or not, but how we deal with them, and do we deal with them in a Christ like way, do we invite him into those uncomfortable areas, the bits that a maybe confused and messy, the bits we really wished had been different.

Whatever we regret or have avoided facing, today I urge us all to find in Christ that place of security, encounter his unconditional love and acceptance of you, and then let him lead you back to face the regrets in a Godly with him.

Perhaps you’ve already done this?

The danger is so often we pseudo forgive and so only ever receive a pseudo forgiveness.

I believe God has so much good stuff to say to us, often to those deep places within us, and yet often we are too scared to allow him to speak about certain things that are deeply wedged inside us (sometimes not even knowing its there!).

So today, invite Jesus into all, everything, and let regret, pain and disappointment be taken by Christ in his nail scared hands, knowing we have a God who knows and understands the depth, pain and reality of being human.


All is stripped away…

It has been just over a week since I stepped away from the world of Vicaring, and a parish who I loved despite it’s tough challenges and frustrations.

So much has been going on in my head, and I always had something of a tendency to over think things.

This afternoon I will go along to Church (Messy Church with Hope) ‘just as a punter’ which feels weird, and I’m actually a bit nervous, funny the boot being on the other foot!

These few months were meant to be “time to reflect and pray” about our future, and I have been praying and dreaming, but to not actually be “doing” anything has been incredibly hard, and it’s just over a week, and two days of that I’ve been at Uni!

For activists stopping feels like the world is imploding.

It has made me realise how much of my identity and self worth was tied up not in who I was, but what I did, which is dangerous as what ever you do is never enough.

At a parents evening in the week I was asked if I was the new Vicar of Hamworth (its in vacancy) and I said that I was “a Vicar” not “the” Vicar, but I’d be up for maybe helping out in the future.

It made me realise that we identity people by their jobs, one of the first questions we ask at parties is “what do you do?”

My friend AJ used to joke that he’d say “I’m a painter” and everyone looked impressed like he was Rembrandt or something and then he’d add “and decorator” and see the reaction change, crazy how people perceive and value one another.

So, at the moment not doing anything, feels very weird, and not having productive days too is hard.

Knowing -and praying- when stuff you were involved is happening, knowing that it might end up being taken in directions I would not have chosen, but knowing that the right thing to do is to step away and trust God and trust the people who have stepped up (and God has chosen).

I think too often we think we are indispensable, and actually none of us are, perhaps too there is an unhealthy “need to be needed” which needs to be surrendered afresh at the cross of Christ.

Perhaps too, needing to empty one’s hands and heart for what God has in store for us to do in the future, at the moment still carrying a lot of BS15 in my heart and head (even if very little is currently actually in my hands).

It would so easy to leap into ‘re-bound’ ministry, saying “yes” to every new thing and filling up a new diary to fill the void, yet in doing that God hasn’t got the opportunity to speak, to heal, to restore, to shape, mould, develop and build upon.

It also been a wonderful chance to re-discover what it means to be a dad afresh, reminded meeting up with a former mentor for a coffee -a now retired minister- how easily it is to sacrifice family on the altar of ministry?

I know as a Vicars kid I have resentments of feeling my mum and I paid too higher cost for my Dad’s vocation, and a determination that history was not going to repeat itself.

As Allana has now got a job, I’ll be the one doing the school run and pick up and some of the other stuff, which is a great privilege and opportunity many dads don’t get.

Discovering the call to be a husband too, is something I know I need to learn more about, how not create a ‘new normal’ but a better new normal, and a more Christ-like new normal that blesses my wife.

I read once a deeply challenging chapter of a book which sounded as though the writer was having an affair, but in reality his ‘mistress’ was ministry that was destroying his marriage. Perhaps a call to fresh, new and healthy alignment.

Life lived as Christ wants us to live it.

A life of freedom and grace.

To discover that as humans we are called to “BE” rather than “DO”, as I have often preached we too often seek God’s hands and not enough time seeking his face, perhaps this is a season of seeking his face.

Investing in the most important relationship of all, that of us and God, the Soul Work we all need to do, but often this work is costly and painful, and requires bravery go undergo the surgery.

It would be too easy to short cut this, by just touting myself out and say “here let me help!” as I know most Churches are desperate for helpers…

So this next few months, are going to be a challenge, a tough discipline, hard medicine, yet calling us to trust the coach who understands us and the game better than we do, trusting he knows what he is doing and more than that, he is faithful and he is good.

Yet, like an addict, I pine to return to some form of work or ministry, and do believe that in time God will open the door. It is funny, looking at busy town with many Churches that fall into the category of “good church done well”, and yet many, many people wander around knowing little or nothing about Christ and the Church carries on doing its stuff irrelevant to the lives of many people who wander past its doors.

It is a weird paradox, of on the one hand seeing the need everywhere and feeling compelled to do something, and also the moments of self doubt where it feels like there isn’t a space or room for me to minister.

More over, I want to do the thing that God calls and commissions, life is too short to waste on the wrong things, or even the good things that we weren’t called too.

Perhaps too, I’m ready yet to take on that which God has for me, perhaps I have to let him work in me, before he can work through me afresh?