Discipleship, expectations, Fruit and fruitfulness, Growth, Health, Life styles, Life Together, Spirituality, vocation

A Big Church of Little People.

I have been dipping in and out of this years New wine Conference, and this year the theme in everything seems to becoming back to the need to re-think discipleship.

The Church as a body employs lots of people, there are bookshops full of wonderful discipleship courses, many Churches run home groups, Bible Studies, prayer groups, preach biblically week by week -and yet often we just don’t see people actually changing, and if we are honest we probably aren’t changed much either by what happens in Churches.

Shane Claiborne jokes that we sing “just as I am” in worship, but yet we leave just as we were and we behave as we always have.

I was talking to a friend who is reading a book by a guy (whose name I can’t remember) but he said he realised he had “A big Church of little people” -consumers that turned up week by week, but not disciples, not the mighty men and women that change nations for Christ that he longed to see.

Anther expression I heard was someone talking of people who hide in big Churches, so they can “splash around in the shallow end” rather than be in the “deep end of discipleship”.

To be a disciple is a choice we have to make, discipleship is not something done to us against our will, but rather is an act of our own will, to seek to become more like Jesus.

I had a friend that said of discipleship “I am not here to spoon feed people” the understanding that if you joined the fellowship he led that you took responsibility for your own discipleship.

The silly lines like “I’ve not been fed” were met with comments like “why did you loose your bible?” “Can you not down load a sermon or ring up a Christian friend?” -Yet he had a Church full of disciples, who came bringing something to the table that God had been saying and showing them.

It is a Kingdom value that when you give you receive back more (although that’s not why we do it) let’s be generous in what we share with others, coming with full not empty hands and unread bibles, so that in coming fed we can feed others…

when we loose the egotistical nature of our consumerist mind-set we discover something of what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote to the Church in Rome about “being transformed by the renewing of your mind”.

No one else can live your Christian life for you.

The word for disciple can be translated as an apprentice, an apprentice of Christ, fashioned and shaped for his glory, to live our whole lives for him.

The problem is we commentate on discipleship, rather than participate in it.

Yesterday John Mark Comer said that he told his congregation, some of you don’t need to hear another sermon, you need to put it into practice in your lives.

The problem with western discipleship is not a shortage of material, we have more highly trained leaders than most of the developing world, we can access scripture and discipleship material at a swipe of our mobile phone… The issue is with you and I and our response to that call of Jesus to come and follow him.

what is stopping you being all that Christ is calling you to be? what are you/we going to do about it with him?

I remember when I made a re-commitment to Christ aged 19, I prayed an interesting prayer, I’d been half in and half our of Church for a while, and I remember praying “I don’t just want to play at being a Christian, I want to do it for real”.

Sometimes it can feel like we are just playing a game of being Church, but it isn’t a game, it is serious, deadly serious with eternal consequences.

Let’s take personal responsibility for our walk with Christ, and as we come fed and healthy, we are in a position to help others.

The army drink water first before helping those in famine relief, because if they pass-out no-one receives help, we need to grasp something of this ourselves.

Lets not be big Churches of small people.

Let’s be small Churches of big people, spiritually healthy as we seek to be the people that God is calling us to be, to win this world for him.

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Bible, Commitment, consumerism, cost, Deep, Discipleship, expectations, Fruit and fruitfulness, Growth, pperseverence, prayer, Presences, relationship with God

Teaspoon hiding Vicars.

I read an article about a Churchy couple that invited the Vicar around for tea, it was all very pleasant and nice, but later that evening the couple noticed a silver teaspoon was missing. It was no where to be found.

A year or so later they had the Vicar around for tea again, this time they asked him why he had taken a teaspoon.

The Vicar said that he didn’t steal it, instead he hid it in their Bible.

One of the things that really worries me is the low level of Biblical literacy in the Churches. I remember a Churchy young person telling me the story of the elder wand (from Harry Potter) thinking it was a Bible story.

This book which cost people their lives to bring to us is barely flicked through by Christians, they key to discipleship is not more Church events or umpteen courses or bacon butties but for the men and women that want to follow Jesus to seek God in prayer, read their Bibles and invest in the most important relationship of all -their personal relationship with Christ Jesus.

The problem with discipleship in the UK, people say about “coming to Church to be fed” -a phrase that shows a complete misunderstanding of what Church or discipleship is actually all about, as though our walk with God has been sub-contracted out to someone else, we -before God- have to take personal responsibility for it, not expecting someone else to spoon feed us.

And perhaps with Bible study if we’ve been in the word ourselves, we can come to the group as a contributor rather than just a receiver.

So, if you’ve had the Vicar around for tea check your Bible for teaspoons.

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2 Samuel 23 15-17, best and the worst., Extravagance, Giving/Generousity., Luke 21. 1-4 (widows mite)., values, Water

Value Church?

we have this wonderful person called Jo in our Church, she is homeless and lives in a bus shelter near the Church, and she is also a transsexual, which causes some in the Church to struggle.

I chatted to Jo as I was walking past and she asked me how I was doing, I laughed and said “nothing a beer and a holiday in Barbados wouldn’t fix, but not much chance of either!” we both laughed, and I forgot about the conversation and went off to lead a Bible Study in our Church Cafe (which is a converted toilet -write your own joke here!). Later on I spotted Jo’s wig by the window, and she had brought me up a tin of bass beer (Bass is Jo’s favourite, she hadn’t just got me a cheapy larger, but one she’s drink herself).

Although I love beer, that beer for me is too precious to drink. One of the most extravagant examples of grace and generosity I have come across. Sadly our Church has sometimes lacked both generosity and grace, and sometimes looked down on Jo too, and yet here she was showing something of the wonderful extravagance of God, a lesson and a challenge for us all.

For me, this story reminded me of King David and the well at Bethlehem.


13 During harvest time, three of the thirty chief warriors came down to David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. 14 At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem. 15 David longed for water and said, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” 16 So the three mighty warriors broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the Lord. 17 “Far be it from me, Lord, to do this!” he said. “Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?” And David would not drink it.

There is something wonderful and humbling about an extravagant gift.

I work most weeks at the foodbank, and it is interesting that some people bring along “Tesco value food” and others bring along “Tesco finest”. Any donations are gratefully received by hungry people, but I did think if I was having Jesus around for a meal would I serve him value food, or would I get the best I could afford? Jesus said: “whatever you do for the least of these you do for me?”

David refused to give God a sacrifice that hadn’t cost him anything, he wanted his worship to show God his worth-ship.

Another story that struck me as I was writing this blog is the story of the elderly widow with two copper coins, who gave what little she had to God, whilst the rich and the famous were giving large sums of cash in a showy way, she gave ALL she had. Although they gave a lot, they actually gave nothing at all, although she gave very little she actually gave more than them all.

what we spend our money on shows what we value. I had a job interview a while back in Portsmouth (the same Church that asked me 3 times about my opinion of LGBT people but not once about the cross). we went to their Sunday Supper for the homeless people of their area and they served up big saucepans full of instant soup, bread, and some cake. Then we went off to a meet the Church Council, we drank wine and had an extravagant spread of food. It is great that they are feeding the homeless each week, but the contrast between the two evening meals really struck me.

whilst I was at Salisbury I was involved in a project called Morning Star and they used to do a “Banquet run” giving out food to the homeless, but they made sure that is it was “food fit for a King” using their home-grown produce and serving food for the cities homeless that really showed them the extravagant love of Jesus.

I want to be a Christian that has a heart like Jo’s.

Jesus love for us is not “Tesco Value” love, but “Tesco Finest”, perhaps sometimes we need a little more extravagance in our love and our giving?

I’ll end with one of my favourite clips from the film Les Miserables where the Bishop gives the thief Jean Valjean not what he deserves but extravagant and amazing grace… Take a moment to watch this:

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call, challenge, Commitment, cost, Cross, Determination, Discipleship, Discipline, Endurance, faithfulness, Fruit and fruitfulness, Grit, obidience, pperseverence, steadfast

Grit, the missing Element.

I had a breakfast the other day with my friend ‘Pastor Benson’ it was great to catch up with him. He arrived in Kingswood with the instructions from his Church leader to “plant a Church in Bristol”, and that’s how I got to know him and become friends.

He tried planting in the conference room of the Soundwell Swimming Baths, before moving into the city centre into the Holiday Inn as a venue for their Church.

He now has a small fellowship meeting regularly there, interestingly I asked how his Church started and he had on e word “grit”.

Keeping on going.

Each Saturday they went out onto the streets and invited people to come (anyone doing much Street work knows what a hard and thankless task it can be!), each Sunday there were there, set up, with tea and coffee waiting for people, as they prayed, worshipped and sought God. It took 7 or 8 weeks before anyone other than his family to come and join them, yet they kept on going, they didn’t quit, and the Church was born.

He said to me on Saturday “it doesn’t say well done and gifted servant, or well done successful servant, but well done good and faithful servant” we just had to be faithful.

My mind wandered back to my Greek lessons at College (not exactly my finest hour!) and remembered a phrase (actually normally used of being filled with the Holy Spirit) which is “go on be being filled”, but wondered if “go on be being faithful” perhaps might have the same idea, faithfulness isn’t a one off, but something we are called to be in a continuous cycle of repetition, remaining actively faithful.

Yet as I thought about this, it is amazing how quickly Christians scarper from the battle-field, they may all be noisy in the barracks before the battle, and maybe be around for the first charge, but faithfully having the grit and determination to ‘stand firm’ or ‘stand fast’ keeping going with what God has called us to do. Holding the line in obedience not wandering off in distracting vanity projects, not fleeing the battle front-line for a safer-option.

Let’s be people of grit, of determination and perseverance.

Scripture is full of heroes that kept on going, that remained faithful, gritty characters that persevered, Noah building the Ark, Moses leading the people through the desert, Esther in prayer, Ruth in her commitment to her mother-in-law Naomi, Daniel in righteous living, Nehemiah in re-building the wall and Paul in the proclamation of the Gospel.

Yet our greatest example of grit and deterination is Jesus “who for the joy that was before him endured the cross and scorned its shame”. Jesus did quit on his Fathers Mission even when his sweat fell like drops of blood, even when it cost him everything he had including his life. Jesus remained faithful unto death “even death on the cross”.

I believe the “secret” to transformation in mission is not more courses, or new programmes and ideas but rather greater grit, more steadfastness, keeping going and pressing in to see the harvest.

Bill Wilson of metro-ministries the worlds largest Sunday School in New York said “Christians so often quit before the break through”.

So, a challenge for us all is to not just start new things but have the grit and see them through and come to fruit.

Patient endurance is tough, but often the key to fruitfulness.

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“There is nothing remotely sissy about the women’s auxiliary balloon corps”.

A quote from Blackadder from Captain Darling, both trying to work out ways of avoiding death in the first world war by trying to escape the trenches, yet neither of the two men wants to admit that actually they are afraid of fighting and dying.

Captain Darling, manages to get a safe job behind a desk, and Blackadder tries (and fails) to be posted elsewhere.

This picture reminds me of uncomfortable (and maybe uncharitable) thoughts and conversations I have had with Christians about mission and evangelism.

The truth seems to be they’d rather be doing something nice and pleasantly Christian rather than the costly and sacrificial following of Jesus.

Interestingly, we were doing an outreach on Easter Saturday, and the Church was full of people doing flowers, but only one person came out onto the streets to do outreach with us.

I remember once we were desperately short of people to help with out teenagers and one person emailed to say she couldn’t do it because she was the only singer who could sing soprano (or something like that) in the choir.

The problem is this is it is majoring on the minor.

Prioritising the trivial over the transformative.

Our will being done, not Christ’s will be done.

Discipleship cannot be conditional discipleship, following Jesus only when we happen to be going in the same direction.

Christianity lite.
Decaf Christianity with extra milk foam.

when I was at college there was a cartoon that said “God I will go anywhere you call me too” and underneath it said “provided it is in Surrey”.

It made me think, is the problem with discipleship in the west that it is discipleship on our terms?

A phrase that often challenges me is “If Christ is not Lord of all, is he Lord at all?”

I think all of us find it easier to serve God when it is fun and rewarding, it is harder when it is seemingly making little progress.

Rather than being a backseat driver I fear when the call looks costly, or it is hard-work and a slog, we wrench the steering wheel out of God’s hand or pull up the handbrake and rush for the nearest cushy and consumerist gathering and end up seeking out roles of maximum kudos for minimum cost, the safest option.

The truth is following Jesus is either about obedience and faithfulness or disobedience and sin, the problem is that too often we try and give sin and disobedience a sugar coating of religiosity and respectability.

Blackadder sought glory but not the danger, wants recognition without risk, medals without cost, honour without achievement, and reward without sacrifice.

Yet Christianity has never been safe.

Jesus talks of picking up our cross and following him.

Following Christ will cost us everything we have, it is an “everything or nothing choice”.

As I thought about this blog, I wondered about getting David Beckham to make the squash at football matches. It is a job he could do, but it is substantially short of what he is capable of, and leaves the wider body deprived and should short.

Too many are full of potential that they leave deliberately untapped, because -as a proverb says- “many opportunities are missed because they come in overalls and look like work”.

Lets not give God the fag butts of our time, energy, gifting and resources rather than our first fruits.

So, let’s not be like Captains Darling and Blackader trying to slope off the battle-field, but instead bravely give all that we have, our best efforts and richest resources in the service of King Jesus.

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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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My First Ever Sermon…

Colossians 1:28&29. “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I labour with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me”.

It .was 20 years ago, I was 19, and working in wakefield and my boss, a dude called Tony vashington, asked me to do a talk on this verse to some youth and children’s workers in Darlington (top north east of England). I was very nervous…. here is (more or less from memory what I remember saying, although I think it was probably peppered with a million “you knows”, “er’s” “ums” and “sort offs”.

We are going to change a few words here and there, maybe tweak it a little.

Let’s change the first word… “We” -the idea of collective responsibility- its is assuming that those of us reading this have bought into the idea of living out the message of this letter. The problem is in our society is that it is always someone else’s problem, yet Paul is saying the work of the Kingdom is our responsibility… but I guess many people would like this verse tweaked to say:

“Keen Christians and leaders and anyone that isn’t me”

“Proclaim” er, um, here we have another problem…

Proclaiming sounds a bit um bold, people might not agree with us, or like what we are saying, lets change “proclaim” to “tentatively suggest”…

-Maybe we could addd in the phrase “it would be jolly nice if you might”

“him” – well that’s Jesus, Jesus is a bit controversial, you can just bout get away with talking loosely about God, or Church, or Spirituality…

The problem is Christianity is all about Jesus Christ, and if it isn’t about Jesus Christ, then it isn’t really Christianity…

Yet, I wonder is JC, well, PC?

Couldn’t we say, “think seriously about Spiritual stuff”?

Admonishing and Teaching “that sounds a bit bold too, implies that we have something to share, rather than just listen to their stories” maybe listen and nod enthusiastically and hope they pick up stuff even if we are not saying anything”

So, where have we got too?

“Church leaders and keen Christians and anyone that’s not me, would be jolly nice, if you could tentatively suggest thinking spiritually about stuff, whilst we listen and nod and hope you pick up stuff even if we’re not saying anything”

with all wisdom… Maybe change that too “with any luck”

“That we may present everyone mature in Christ” -maybe we could change that to “coming to Church reasonably regularly” or maybe if we are being a bit daring we could say “that they may have once pray a -or even (gulp at our bravery”)- THE prayer” or at least we could say “really nice people”….

Now, the last bit is difficult, because we know how important a work life balance is, so instead of saying “to this end I labour, struggling…” maybe I could say “as I’m sure they mean well and are doing their best (I mean what can you expect for the money we pay them!)”.

…and the last bit maybe could say “and I’m sure the good Lord is Jolly grateful”

“Church leaders and other keen Christians and anyone that isn’t me would be jolly nice if they tentatively suggest that people consider thinking about spiritual stuff with any luck they might come to Church, maybe even pray the prayer, but even so they’re lovely people, as they mean well and are doing their best (I mean what can you expect from the money we pay them) and I’m sure the good Lord would be jolly grateful”

Sounds a bit different doesn’t it.

Lets look at the proper passage again.

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I labour with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me”.

Personal responsibility to make Jesus Christ known and to see one another (and ourselves) come to maturitty in Christ as we seek to serve him and each other with wisdom, learning from each other, warning and challenging each other, wanting the best for each other that we might be all we can be in Christ. It is a tough battle, a real struggle, and yet in doing this, we have this awesome promise that Christ himself, the one who is greater than he that is in the world, is working powerfully in us and through us.

Yet how often does the conversation sound like the corrupted verse?

Or even if it doesn’t how much of the corrupted verse actually is want we may secretly think, or at least is a viewpoint within our Church communities.

So, let’s end with this fab verse…

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I labour with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me”.

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