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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Church, Mission, Mission Shaped Church, Salvation

Fertile Church?

Okay a very late message for Mothering Sunday as it is almost a week late!

Yet I was think about the whole image of motherhood, birth, nurture, dependants and independence. Yet, in the west we see birth as a one off event happening infrequently, yet in other cultures or in the world of nature, birthing is a regular occurrence with large tribes being established.

I was thinking that when Church is refereed to as Mother or Bride, there is something of the fertility image here, the idea of birth and the giving of new life is perhaps why female imagery is used her.

Church is meant to reproduce, in a ‘be fruitful and multiply kind of a way’ Church is not meant to just birth enough to survive as an institution, but rather the thrive, new life and new birth.

Can a Church which produces no fruit, no new birth, really be called a Church?

I was also thinking, if people want to have kids, they often need to be intentional about it, stopping habits that reduce the chance of pregnancy, being in tune with the rhythms and timing of the woman’s body, and also doing the infamous “IT”.

I remember seeing a comedy and one of the characters asked the potential mother, whether she was eating healthily, stopped smoking and drinking, (she was and she had) and then asked if she was having sex regularly, she replied “I can’t do everything”!

-I wondered about how many things in our Churches reduce the likelihood of new-life and new birth?

I wonder whether we are in or out of tune with what is going on in the fertile ground of our community?

I wonder too whether we actually do the infamous “IT” (actually talking about Jesus).

I wonder if wanting to see people become Christians without mentioning Jesus is a bit like wanting a baby without having sex!

Often Churches feel like their ‘birthing days are behind them’ but scripture is full of mothers giving birth in their older age, Sara, Hannah and Elizabeth for example. Even old and seeming with pruning can yeld a new crop.

Sometimes too, we as Church have unexpected births, somehow our often massively inadequate schemes and plans, somehow sees people come to faith, often leaving us some what surprised.  Remember the potency of what we have in Christ Jesus.

So, the call to Mother Church is to be a fertile group of people, to see new life and new birth happen…

Interestingly too, as we think of the images of birth and pregnancy, we often see the gestation period, conception, where the seed takes root,  and the long slow journey before birth. Makes me ask, to we protect and nurture  those who are in the journey of re–birth?

Also, thinking too of birth and pregnancy, both are messy and at times uncomfortable, but is part of the normal process of bringing in new life, yet too often we do not fully understand that mission and discipleship is messy and costly.

So, let’s embrace the idea of Mother Church, with a commitment to seeing the birth of many healthy new babies, as the Kingdom of God is birthed across our community, across this nation and the world.

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community of grace, grace, love

Community of Grace…

If you’ve come back from the United Service, you’ve probably just heard Simon Holland speaking about his vision for the Church he serves (note the language) in Bath, “to be a community of grace at the heart of the city”.

We are Christ’s ambassadors, entrusted with Christ’s ministry of reconciling the world to God. Imploring people on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.

A broken world, and broken individuals need to experience the radical grace-filled love of God expressed in the love of God demonstrated most clearly and beautifully upon the cross of Calvary. Steve Brittan has said that the cross shows us the greater truth, that God himself is good news.

At  the heart of the universe is a God who is not angry or vindictive, but loving us and desiring to welcome us home into relationship with him, with that same furious love as shown in Luke 15, with the parable of the running father (a better and more apt name that the prodigal son).

This is a message of radical and transforming hope, that however broken we are, however steeped in sin we have become, what ever we have done or whatever has been done to us, the grace of God and his love is greater still.

Reminded of the line from that great hymn; “the vilest offender, who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives”.

The truth of us as Church, is we have forgotten what God, in Christ, has done for us.

We have forgotten we ourselves are forgiven sinners. We ourselves are not whole and respectable, without fault, blemish and with a cupboard or two full of skeletons.

Grace has saved us, we need to show grace to a world that won’t necessarily understand it, and probably can’t articulate it, but is none the less desperate for it.

Grace changes lives.

Grace transforms brokenness.

It’s gotta work this time tomorrow…

The truth is it is easy being a Christian on Sunday night, surrounded by other Christians, in nice family comfortable surrounding…

but the  truth is that isn’t where most of us spend most of our lives, we have jobs, we have families, we have friends, Christianity if it means anything has got to work as well as it does on Sunday evening on Monday morning, otherwise, what is the point?

When we think of our lives as a pie chart our ‘church’ but can seem like a slim slither of the pie, and then ‘the rest of life takes over’, but I believe our faith was never meant to be compartmentalised into small separate sections, our Christian walk isn’t done when we can ‘tick a box’ and say we have ‘done’ our Sunday… instead, our faith is meant to be something that permeates every area and facet of our lives.

Jesus said “I stand at the door and knock if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him” and yet too often the invitation is only into the hall, or standing or the door step, or maybe just into the ‘best and most presentable room of the house, the sunday slither of our life, but Jesus wants to be invited in and it be ‘access all areas’, and actually the darkest and grottiest corners of our lives are actually the bits we need him in the most…

After all as Jesus himself said: “those who are well don’t need a doctor but only those who are sick… not come to call respectable people but sinners” -yet the western Church spends half its life trying to look respectable.

Simon, spoke of our Churches flinging open the doors every day of the week, welcoming people in (and they have done, they have an awesome coffee shop and lots of great things going on) but I am saying one step further.

The Church is called out to the streets,
The Church  is called out to the marginalised and disenfranchised.
The Church is called to minister amongst the hurting and the broken, the least, the last and the lost.
The Church is not some faceless institution or an over-worked vicar, the Church is you and me, ordinary people who love Jesus, ordinary people for whom Christ died, one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread, all of us, all the time, living out a radical life going against the tide of conventional norms and expectations, doing life God’s way, holding our grace to a world that needs not just to theologically understand it, but understand it through experiencing it.
I believe grace, like love, needs to be experienced before it can be understood.
And so, as I was talking about that Church is not a slim slither, a small percentage of our existence, but actually our everything, all the time, every day, ‘living sacrifices, choosing to offer ourselves as surrendered sacrifices before Christ, 24-7, 465, for the rest our of lives (or until Christ returns).
The challenge is about taking this grace out with us into our world, everyday, in the vast medley of situations, opportunities, people, places that we encounter each day, a deployed army, and undercover agent living for a different Kingdom shining out like stars in a crooked and depraved world, salty people, light people, people of hope for it is Christ IN US the hope of glory; the same spirit within us  who believe who raised Jesus from the dead.
And we’re not just called to potter around in these places, but actually to transform them, I believe all of us should be looking for those small and significant opportunities to bless and live out grace, but also look for the great opportunities, the transforming moments, dream dreams that scare you, pray God gives you visions, believe in bigger as too often we have lost sight of the furious love of God who desires relationship with his creation and think that all we can do is the small, lowly and sparse, where actually dear brethren, the Father longs to give us the Kingdom.
A friend of mine described one of his vision statements for his Church, it was “faith that made you gulp rather than yawn”, I think the same should be said for our lives; let us seek the coming of the Kingdom living out radical love and compassion that the grace of God flowing from us by our obedience makes a world ‘gulp rather than yawn’.
You see when you and I live this out, they see people and communities that look like Jesus.
Jesus had the most attractive life ever lived on this planet.
The word Christian simply means ‘little Christ’.
So when you put you computer off, remember that you are now in your mission field, you are now on the front line.
Now is the day of salvation.
Let’s live out lives of radical grace, not just within out Churches, but within a world that broken and needs to know God and to see what he is like.
You might be thinking, this is too much Andy, I can’t do it in my strength, then I will close by saying, ‘yep, you are dead right…  but the good news is you don’t have too, pray that God will help all of us see this message not just be an email rant, but a daily reality, impossible humanly speaking, but as the gospel reminds us, “nothing is impossible with God”.
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