Church, priorities, self awareness

A wonderful hospital without any patients…


I don’t know if you have ever seen this classic episode of “Yes Minister” where the Minister discovers this amazing, well ordered fantastic hospital only to discover that it doesn’t actually have any patients or treat any sick people.

It is a classic case of people having forgotten their reason for being, they are not doing what they are supposed too so they try and justify their existence by celebrating what they actually do do (a well run hospital without any patients).

Yet many of our Churches are like this, Mission Centres through which tragically no one other than their regular members have heard the good news of Jesus. Discipleship programmes where the people are exactly the same after the course as they were before it.

Perhaps we as Christians are like this, we profess to be Christ’s people but don’t do anything Christ-like or Kingdom advancing.

I have a book called “what on earth is the Church here for”, yet I wonder whether our answers to that question might sound a bit like the civil servants justifying the existence of a hospital without any patients? If we are not reproducing the DNA of Jesus in our lives and in our communities then we are just “a rotary club with a pointy roof” or a person that is a “clanging gong or a noisy cymbal” (to quote St. Paul).

So, let’s take a moment to ask ourselves as individuals and collectively as Church “why are we here?” -Are we really like a hospital with no patients? If so, let’s roll up our sleeves and return to the Kingdom work.

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acceptance, brokenness, community of grace, Compassion, ethics, grace, Holiness, inclusion, LGBT, love, truth

It’s a SIN?

I recently blogged about the Church needing to be loving in its attitudes towards people especially those in the LGBT community.

I deliberately didn’t blog about where I personally stand on the issue, as normally that normally means that only the people who agree with you read your post!

I long for all sides of Christ’s Church to become more loving, to read the Bible together in loving, God-honouring, humbling, respectful exchanges.

People talk about grace and truth being held together, and I think much of our Christian theology is about holding some difficult things intension in a Godly way (which is hard at times).

For some this is primarily a debate about the authority of scripture, what authority does scripture have over how we are followers of Christ live our lives? Does scripture say what we think it does, are we reading things the same way? Let’s talk and seek God together about authority of scripture and then about what it says within it?

For some this debate is about pastoral theology, how do we live out our faith together in community?

For others it is about how people make sense of their story and the story of God that captivates us, and the fundamental question of “who am I in Christ?” And for some, how do I make sense of “who I have discovered I am” with “who I have discovered I am in Christ?” and is there a tension with the two, and if so, how do I authentically deal with this under the Lordship of Christ.

The question people often say is “is it a sin?” as it seems be saying “if it is a sin, then the gloves are off and we can treat them how we like”, pastorally, even if it is a sin we are still called to love people and to “love our neighbour as our-self”.

Some think unquestionably the answer is yes.
Some think unquestionably the answer is no.

Some distinguish between desire and inclination and the practice.

I think the problem is we want a ‘clear cut’ discipleship and yet I have discovered that most pastoral theology is often complicated, messy and often not as clear cut as we’d like it to be.

I know many people in different places on the spectrum.

One Christian I have spoken about this, is an amazing Godly person and this person has chosen to be celibate rather than living out her sexual desire.

I know other Christians, gay and straight, who genuinely have really studied, prayed and sought God and believe the opposite.

Much ink has been spilled in the “nature/nurture” debate, yet irrespective of this Jesus is a God that meets us where we are at, and this is true for all people regardless of gender identity, and yet loves us too much to let us stay that way. we all need transformation, and we are all fallen, broken people. The straight person is not superior to his gay neighbour, as before the foot of the cross it is level ground, we all come from any and all walk of life, empty handed before a loving God who died for us.

I worry we have re-written the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector to the “straight and the gay person”, and I don’t want to be on the wrong side of the parable.

Christ’s grace and love extends to every area of our lives include our sex lives and inclinations, as does his Lordship too.

As I said in my previous blog, the only way we can see these rifts within the wider Church and individual fellowships be healed, is in love journeying together prayerfully, seeking God and seeking him honestly through scripture (which can be immensely challenging for us all whatever perspective we hold, as scripture always shapes and challenges us profoundly to the core of our being).

Even if we don’t agree and may never read the Bible the same way as someone else our challenge remains to love them and to ensure that our conduct towards them reflects the Christ we serve.

It is a difficult call, and groups like synod will make stands some of which we will applauded and others of which leave us perplexed, yet rather than walk away, lets keep engaging, praying and seeking God with those who see things differently by reading his word together.

It is hard being in conversations about things that are deeply personal and important with people that don’t agree with us, and the Bible can feel incredibly sharp on occasion, yet even though it is difficult it is the cost of being a disciple to be a loving community, gathered around Christ and his word, and to seek together to follow Christ, which is often more complex, messy and ambiguous than we would like it to be.

As we seek to share our journey of faith with our brothers and sisters from many different walks of life, we need to let God work in us and shape us, and these things are often costly, “Iron sharpens iron as one person sharpens another”.

The Church in the U.K looks like it might split over this issue, which would be a tragedy for us all. There have been many big and important issues that have threatened to tear the Church apart, but we need to remember the heart of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane that prayed “let them (the Church)be one as you and I are one”, Christ wants his bride to be united. To stop fighting and prayerfully gather around scripture takes bravery from all sides, and even more courage to stay praying and sharing around the Bible when it gets challenging, but worth it, to show the world that Christians can disagree in a Godly and honourable way.

The Church needs to heed the words of murdered MP Jo Cox that said “there is more that unites us that divides us”.

I believe the Church can and should be an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven, and I believe it is worth fighting for, because you are worth fighting for, because we are the Church of Jesus Christ and we will not let’s not allow Satan to divide us.

Keep loving.
Keep meeting with people who we disagree.
Keep praying.
Keep sharing.
Keep reading scripture.
Keep on seeking God together.

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call, challenge, Church, cost, Discipleship, Kingdom, Ministry, Mission, obidience, perspectives, priorities, vision, vocation

we don’t need more Churches, rather we need Churches doing what they are supposed too!

Recently I had a sad experience, we had started a small congregation meeting next door to the main Church in the Community centre, mainly to allow the children’s work to flourish but unfortunately it didn’t work as we had hoped. I remember doing the last service there, which was a damp squib, as I tided up and walked out the door, something of lump appeared in my throat, although only a very short era, it was still and end of an era.

I did in my spirit wonder if maybe we (as in the Christian Community) will be back here reaching out to the people of Kingswood.

Then as I thought more about this I began to ask myself the question “does Kingswood need more Churches” actually Kingswood is choc-a-bloc with Churches yet few that are reaching out beyond their four walls, few seeking to reach out with the good news of Christ Jesus, few trying to raise up discipleships that are ‘nation transformers’ and praying in the Kingdom of God.

We also have new Churches planted into Kingswood, and yet sadly, they come into Kingswood, people drive in and drive out, some don’t even get around to investing in a “welcome sign” by their front door. Yet all that happens stays within the walls, and they never even send the other Churches in the area a email saying “hey”.

Yet we know that God is wanted his deeply divided Church to be unified in him, and in seeing his Kingdom advance and grow, impacting local communities and transforming lives, as we think of the Pentecost season, we know the need of the Spirit of God taking his Church back, breathing fresh and new life into it and blowing open its door to reach the community for Christ.

We don’t need more congregations and Churches, but actually for the Churches to do -or at least try to do- that which we are called to do.

The challenge is that the Church, is not some faceless institution, but rather you and me, we need to be people filled with his spirit, living his way, and seeing as individuals to shape and transform the corporate body of believers to keep us following Christ in courageous obedience.

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Acts 2:42-47., Church

Spot the difference…

Occasionally they spent some time listening to the apostles’ teaching and, when they could, they met together for fellowship, for the breaking of bread and for prayer.

Awe came upon some of them. But there were no signs and wonders. All who believed were separated into groups and kept themselves apart in all they did; they would hoard their possessions and goods and show indifference to those in need.

Day by day, they went about their lives as individuals, only meeting weekly or fortnightly in the temple. They broke bread at home alone and ate their food with cold and empty hearts, giving token thanks to God. They were held in contempt by all the people. And day by day their numbers dwindled and it seemed that few were being saved.

or perhaps…

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Sadly we know which one is in the Bible, and we know which one we habitually see lived out in our Church communities.

Yet the question is how do we get from there to here? And what are you going to do about it.

This type of Church is not going to happen by a Church leader spelling out a vision, but by everyone learning how to BE Church in the way they live, serve and share together in radical corporate discipleship.

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Church, Commitment, consumerism, cost, Disappointment, Glory, Kingdom, Numbers

A Few Good (wo)/men.

I remember hearing a minister once say, I’d rather have 10 people passionately souled out and on fire for Christ than thousands of apathetic Christians.

Numbers do matter, we want to see lives transformed for Christ, and so the more people doing that the better, the more people hearing the gospel the better too.

Yet in another sense numbers don’t matter. I keep on seeing how Jesus took time out to talk to one individual, a cowardly scholar, a woman with a dubious reputation, it wasn’t all stage managed crowds. In fact Jesus was always leaving crowds where-as our leaders are always trying to milk them.

Yet I have noticed the weekend in particular with a couple of very small events, our 20’s & 30’s event only had 6 people, and our LATE SERVICE in Hanham was also numerically small, yet both had an intense sense of the Holy Spirits presence, and we shared openly real and authentic stuff as we prayed into stuff in a vulnerable way, but a way that felt beautiful and God honouring. A glimpse of what I believe Church can, should and could be.

we might like the anonymity of being part of a crowd, but I think it is in real community that we really grow.

we might like the fact that in a larger group your turn at serving on the (whatever) rota comes around less, but actually in serving we grow.

If I ever did a PHD I would like to do something on the corrilation between larger/smaller churches and discipleship, my belief is the larger the Church the more the risk of consumerism and complacency, after all someone else will probably do it, safety in numbers, yet discipleship is never meant to be safe.

As the five of us worshipped in Hanham on Sunday night, I shot a side-ways glance, and thought “is this my Gideon’s Army for taking Hanham?” just as the group of us pledged to seek God’s transformation is again a small group, but then I was reminded that although Gideon’s Army was tiny it still defeated the Midionites, in Corinthians Paul reminds us that “in weakness God is strong” after-all God reminds us that it is “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord of hosts” -maybe in a great team of mighty people we may see wonderful advances but the glory would go to the team leader, as a tiny bunch of ordinary stretched and broken Christians seeing God do wonders, the glory goes to God.

So, although the numbers may feel discouraging, I believe that with God we are always the majority, I’d rather have a small group of people committed to the Kingdom cause, than a great bunch that come and want to be entertained.

Yes it is nice to talk to a crowd, it is nice when they laugh at my jokes, but the Church is not measured by its bums on seats but rather on its fruitfulness,it’s Christ-likeness and its serving capacity. Yet it is interesting how often clergy ask each other “how big is your Church” which gages as a measure of your success, but if no one is becoming more Christ-like then you have just created a wonderful middle class hang out.

So, even if we are a small army, let us be measured by our hearts and our desire to be obedient to Christ, rather than our numbers.

Someone once said “its not the size of the guy in the fight, but the size of the fight in the guy” -even if we are small, we can still have a big vision. Let’s be people ahead of the curve where God is about to move, rather than hanging around where God has been working enjoying the aftermath.

Let’s not let the small number of fellow troops in the trenches deter us for we remember that the battle belongs to the Lord.

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Church, Organic

Have we made it all too complicated?

I have been in rota meeting where we have spent hours, literally hours, sorting out who speaks when and what about.

I remember getting ordained and the ‘dress rehearsal” took ALL morning -do you really need a hours of choreography to get someone to pray/commission you?

I have seen people spend days getting orders of services written, printed, folded etc for one hour service…

I have been in Churches where the sound check can take hours getting every mic just right.

Although I think we shouldn’t necessarily be ‘slap-dash’ about worship and our time shared together, sometimes we make it all too complicated?

Maybe -especially in this election tide- we need to get “back to basics” and re-discover what it really means to be gathered together as the family of God in the fellowship of believers.

Does Church have to be such a big event taking up so much heavy duty time and effort?

Does the work we put into a service show reflected in the transformative effect in real peoples lives day by day?

I have been thinking about the Israelites following God using their portable tabernacle housing the ark of the covenant, they followed God where his presence was, and yet know we have stopped moving and turned the tabernacle into stone Temples.

Church was never meant to be an event, nor worship like a show, the Church was never meant to be run like a business and the local leaders were never meant to act like company CEO’s.

Sometimes I think Churches choke with beaucracy, like David in Saul’s armour unable to fight because the baggage of a past culture.

There are some people who seem to get more excited about Canon Law than about Scripture! (Sadly true!).

I was thinking about Church when it is all boiled down to its core components it is just a group of people who love Jesus trying to following and helping one another to do this better.

Church was never meant to be an event.

Following Jesus wasn’t meant to be about a stack of committee meetings that meet regularly but achieve little, and filling in rota’s, endless maintaining buildings and back and forth email chains that seem everlasting…

I long to see Church being organic and about the over-flow of what God is doing and saying to us.

I long to see Church being family not a business.

I long to see our lives less complicated and being about loving Jesus, when you are in love nothing is too much trouble and you automatically adjust your priorities around your heart.

I wonder how many committee meetings the Holy Spirit feels excluded from? How many of our meetings cause the Holy Spirits heart to stir or the demons heart to sink?

Or amid the stuff of Christendom have we lost what it means to have a real authentic and vibrant relationship with Jesus.

A challenge is we stripped away all the stuff we currently do and just ‘hung out with God’ how much everything would change? I reckon if we soak in God’s presence we would be fuelled to his our lives his way.

If we soak in God’s presence, there is something wonderful in our lives and it becomes contagious -I want what you’ve got! Iron sharpening iron.

I wonder what is we learned to simplify everything and just sought God and his heart, long to be in his presence and be transformed by that encounter. Soaking in his presence and blessing and encouraging one another, our brothers and sisters in Christ, our Christian family.

I don’t know how we can make it all a bit simpler, but I long to drop the shackles of yesterdays armour and see people liberated from the millstone of Christendom to drink the sweet new wine of the Kingdom of God and the intimacy of God.

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Community, community of grace, Compassion, love

Where is the Love?

I remember watching the musical Oliver and the child sings this song “where is love?” and it is really heart-wrenching song, the production I saw had written as a sign on the workhouse wall the words “GOD IS LOVE”, as the work houses at that time were very proud of their Christianity, but showed no little love for the people they served.

This is so at odds with the words of Jesus who said “by this all people will know you are my disciples that you love one another” and “Love one another as I have loved you”, “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

John the apostle writes in his first letter “God is love and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them”.

Paul says “If I do not have love I am a clanging gong or a resounding symbol…” and ends by saying “If I have not love I am nothing”, talking about all the great and worthy things we can do in acts of service but if they are not rooted and grounded in love they are worth nothing at all.

Yet, why do our Churches often feel so unloving?

Philip Yancey’s quoted a young man wrestling with his sexuality in one of his books and he said “Sometimes it is easier to get sex on the streets than a hug in a “Christian Church”.

I know love can be expressed in different ways, but I wonder whether the people in our Church and our fellowships feel loved? Do they feel loved by us?

Perhaps there is something you can do to bless someone who needs to feel that loving touch of God?

Perhaps too, you can be part of re-writing a churches DNA, and living out a different life that loves and is gracious even when it really really tough.

For me, there are people I struggle to love in my Churches, and sometimes I find it almost impossible to give them communion, but when I feel like this I need to be reminded of how much God loves me -and I know I screw up and let him down loads-, which enables me to pass them the bread and the wine, knowing that (to quote George Herbert) “It is love that bade us welcome”…

 

 

 

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