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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Acts of Service, Discipleship, Glory, love, self awareness

The Quest for Invisibility…

At the (amazing) event on Sunday night at Church of the Ascension my friend and colleague Geoff said something profound which I have been thinking about the last couple of days…

He talked about wanting to be invisible.

The idea that as he preached and ministered he didn’t want it to be about him, ‘Geoff did an amazing sermon’, but rather ‘wow God spoke to me and blessed me’, that idea that God is meeting his people so powerfully that those of us serving and facilitating are completely unseen because the focus and the attention is purely on Jesus.

As I thought about this quest for invisibility I thought the only time I notice the sound guys work is when it goes wrong, when all is working as it should, we don’t notice them because we are listening to something else.

The problem is so much of our fallen-ness wants to be noticed and be affirmed… but sometimes our desire for recognition and affirmation actually detracts from the person of Christ himself.

At a recent Mission Shaped Ministry Evening we were talking about leadership, and we asked about a biblical leader we admired, my friend Paul Hinkley (who is much wiser than me) said: “John the Baptist” and went on to talk about the profoundness humility at the heart of leadership conveyed by the wonderful words of John when he said “I must decrease so he can increase” that idea of self with-drawl for Christ’s glory.

Another story that I found beautiful and challenging was Bidds (another local Church leader) talking about a healing he had been privileged to be involved with, where a lady was powerfully healed from cancer. Bidds went along to her Church quietly sitting in the back row and heard her testimony, she talked about someone praying for her but didn’t say his name, nor did she say she went to his event, purely the story she told was about Christ healing her, the person and people who faithfully prayed and stepped out in faith and obedience went unmentioned and the glory went entirely to Christ.

I long to see people across this area talk about hearing from, encountering and being healed by Christ where the glory goes to him, not us.

Sadly I hear too often from the stage of big conference people talking about healing miracles and prophetic words as though they themselves had some divine power, rather than us all simply being followers of Christ who he delights in partnering with, who are blessed to be used by him in the advancement of his Kingdom and to bring him glory.

Let’s all take Geoff’s advice and have a quest for invisibility so people don’t see us but see Christ transforming lives.

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Church, faith, Fear, Glory, Risk and Change

Unsafe Church, Uncomfortable Vicars & Unexpected Fruit.

I love the story of John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement, who had become a Christian and started going  to a local Church and reading his Bible (not a bad start!) and he felt more and more concerned with the disconnect between what he experienced in the Church meeting and what he read about from the pages of scripture, so he asked the question:

“er…when do we DO the stuff?”

To which he was greeted by a somewhat perplexed look from the minister and the congregation, “The Stuff?”

“…You know, THE STUFF”…

What he meant was things like “healing” and answers to prayer, “prophecy, words of knowledge, tongues, discernment” -which is there is the Bible but often not sadly not actively pursued in our Churches our the everyday life of many Christians.

The Bible is expectant of the supernatural to be part of the everyday experience of God’s people (both as individuals and corporately).

I once preached that “the only difference between us as the Disciples in the book of Acts is simply time”, God hasn’t changed nor his power diminished… Yet our Churches and my own personal life feels vastly different from the book of Acts, why is that?

Firstly it isn’t safe. I remember someone prayed for me about Allana and I having a baby, and I was really grateful that they did, but it was risky, what if it didn’t happen? Fortunately God blessed us with a wonderful daughter Hope, but  on another occasion, we had a miscarriage (early stages) and people prayed that the baby would be okay and it wasn’t. Sometimes we see wonderful answers to prayer, and God does amazing things, and that is wonderful, and other times we don’t see the healings we have sought God for (for whatever reason, and to be honest I don’t really know). It is dealing with the real, the deep, the personal stuff which really matters… It is much safer just to waffle on with a sermon telling us to be nice to everyone, rather than deal with the real and knotty issues of real life.

The Area Dean, Si Jones once said that “when we didn’t pray for anyone nobody got healed, now we try and pray for everyone and sometimes people get healed”.

John Wimber said “Faith is spelled R-I-S-K.

Risk.

Risk of looking foolish or crazy!

Risk of upsetting people!

but also the risk of seeing God do what we can’t do and intervene and tranform the most desperate situations.

I want to be someone that risks praying Godly, knowing he loves his people and has the power to heal and transform.

I remember praying for someone with a really bad back, and suddenly they got really excited, telling me their back was getting hot and was feeling better… I’ll be honest I was more shocked than them. A reminder that I need to pray with expectation that God is going to work.

This morning we had  a guest speaker, Andy Bidds, who told about praying for healing for a guy with calipers on his legs, and nothing happened, but in Bidds praying for him this guy really felt God’s love in a really special way, sometimes God does something we don’t expect.

Yet I want to be unsafe, in so much as we talk about real stuff and we pray with faith into real life and risk disappointment in order to have the expectancy of wonder and blessing.

I’m a Vicar, and as a breed we are a bunch of control freaks, but the truth is we are not supposed to be in control, God is, and following a real God who speaks and answers prayer often is a step outside our comfort zone.

The guy whose going to be Vicar at the Church my Dad has retired too, told me the story of getting into trouble from the Chaplain for praying for someone to be healed on a hospital chaplaincy placement at college (the one Sam goes too) the problem was the guy was healed, and so the chaplain wrote a letter of complaint to the college!!

It is safe and more comfortable not to step out the boat, not to believe God can or does these type of things, and pretend that Jesus didn’t say “with God all things are possible” and cross out of our bibles verses like  “God is able to do more than we can ask or imagine”. Yet being a Christian is sometimes neither safe or comfortable.

Theologically we are told in scripture we have “the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead” active in our lives, “he (the Holy Spirit) that is in us is greater than he that is in the world” in fact the Bible makes the audacious claim that we will do “greater things than him (Jesus)”.

I want to end with the passage of scripture which changed my view of God doing supernatural stuff, it comes from the story of Abra(h)am and Sara(h) and they recieved a prophecy that Sara(h) would have a child, and her reaction was to laugh and the Lord asks her “why did you laugh?” -If we believe God created the world, raised Jesus from the dead and did what he says he did in the Bible, why can’t he do real stuff in my life and the peoples lives around me.

Lets pray riskily, let’s be bold, and let’s have stories of unexpected fruit.

Even if people don’t receive the blessing we would love them too, praying and loving them will bless them, on one sense nothing to loose, but everything to gain.

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