Encouarge, Endurance, faithfulness, Intentional, inter-dependance, Journey, Life Together, Ministry, Mission, Partnership, presence, Self Care, Spiritual Health, Strength

Running Mates…

Yesterday I met up with my old prayer triplet from college, most weeks we would meet up, and chat and pray for each other and all that’s going on in our lives, and since college we have kept on meeting up (so I guess we’re on our 13th year!).

It is good to share with other people who are running a similar race to you, to remind you that the gospel and the Kingdom is best served lived out and proclaimed faithfully day in and day out alongside real people who don’t yet know Jesus.

we need friends that will encourage and inspire us.

we need people that help us stay focused on Jesus, we need people to help lift us up when we fall, and support us when our confidence gets knocked (and sometimes our confidence gets knocked in him too). we need others to keep us on track.

I have been working in various Churches and Christian organisations now for 20 years, and as I look back God has placed some truly wonderful people around me at various stages of my journey. we need one another. The Christian life can be a lonely one and we need those people to spur us on, to encourage us to keep going, to run the extra mile, to reach for the prize, to not quit but go on for the gold.

we need friends to pick us up too when we fall down, to support us when it is tough.

we also need friends to be honest with us, sometimes (and this needs to be the right people in the right context) be brutally honest.

we need to at times “confess your sins to one another so you maybe healed”, and I know from experience that I find being vulnerable difficult and the acute shame when I’ve messed up is wonderfully relieved when shared with a brother in Christ.

It takes courage to be vulnerable, I remember in Poole I was in a lads prayer group and we’d been meeting for a while, and then one of the guys admitted that he’d been struggling with lustful thoughts, and all of us admitted we did too. Yet none of us had been brave enough to say this, and we were in an accountability group.

Later when I was at college I discovered one of my theological heroes, Dietrich Bonhoffer, who talked about two fellowships “the fellowship of the righteous” and the “fellowship of sinners”, the first the fellowship of the righteous where we all pretend to be fine, sorted and stiff upper lip. whereas the fellowship of the sinners, is being honest about the struggles and the strains of our walk with Jesus.

It is so easy to let one another off the hook and keep everything nice and superficially pleasant, but then we don’t grow in our faith, we get stuck and stagnate, and don’t become all that Christ wants us to be.

It feels scary and risky admitting the things we struggle with, and I can’t guarantee that every Christian grouping will respond well or appropriately when we share, because when we share it challenges them too, and as people we know that going deeper is good for us, but being shallow is less costly and painful.

Yet God rejoices when Christian communities go deeper.

If Churches are not changing lives than why are we opening our doors?

we need to be people that have one another’s backs, and hold one another in prayer “because your enemy, the devil, wanders around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour”.

It is a tragedy that in our individualistic, consumerist and complacent culture that sadly has crept into the Church that we want people to have our backs and pray for us, but are we doing that for someone else.

A great question is “have you got a mentor?” but it should be followed by the question “and who are you mentoring”.

If I ever get to be on an interview panel for a Christian job one of the questions I’d ask is who are you accountable too, how regularly do you see them, and how ruthlessly honest are you?

we are called to bring the best out in one another, but that does mean challenge and sometimes conflict. I love the verse “iron sharpens iron as one person sharpens another” but I am reminded that when iron sharpens iron there are often sparks that fly off and it can be perilous.

If someone asks you to pray for them as they go into a tricky situation for them, not only pray for them, but check up and see how they got on, and if they have asked to be accountable then be full of love and grace but seek to bring light and truth into situations.

The problem is all this sounds good in theory, but to put it in place isn’t easy, and then to set the level that actually gets a real and authentic honesty is hard, and also trust takes time to be built up too.

Yet this is what I feel Church ought to look like.

I remember talking about my time working in rehab and seeing how people were so honest with each other, how they were ruthlessly blunt too with their questions and also wonderfully loving and gracious -and saw peoples lives changed and transformed.

Too often I think we think of discipleship as being able to regurgitate Bible verses (and it is good to know scripture) but actually what we want and long to see in our own lives and the lives of our Church family is real, lasting, deep change at the core of our being, that we become healed, restored and shaped into all that God wants us to be. Sounded more spiritual has some benefit but it cannot be at the cost of the true business of the Church which is Kingdom transformation.

we need one another, and they need us. The Africans have a proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”, and I think that is true spiritually too, it takes a village to raise a follower of Christ, we need one another to be all that Christ wants us to be.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is how can we be real, honest and vulnerable?

Are we brave and courageous to seek the help and support of others?

People say “I don’t need to go to Church to be a Christian” firstly we don’t go too Church we are the Church, but the truth is that people need us, and we need them, and God has placed other people around us as a gift, a wonderful resource to bless us, and us them.

So, lets gather our running mates, and keep on running together, discovering that running in a team helps make us faster and travel further and more quickly than we could do on our own.

“let us not forsake meeting together, but let us spur one another on towards love and good deeds, ever more as we see that day approaching”.

Authenticity, Intentional, Organic

Intentionally Organic.

I was at a conference recently and a (fantastic) guy was being interviewed about the great stuff he was doing and he said “we’re very simply…” and he went on to cram in a list of about half a dozen buzz words from the world of Church planting.

Two favourite words I hear quite often are “Organic” and “Intentional” but they are often used to mean totally opposite things.

Organic means letting things grow naturally, develop how they will, seeing how it goes, a more sort ‘fasten your seat-belt and go where the ride takes you, and we aren’t quite sure where the end point is and how it will look when we get there’. Very much the missional model Jesus had when he sends out the 72 with no Alpha DVD’s in their ruck sac’s or why Jesus’ in their back pockets, no plan to build a stadium or with a worship leader already appointed with a guaranteed contract and salary for two years.

Whereas being intentional isn’t a model of “jump in and see what happens” but is a much more deliberate, planned and calculated, it’s not a reckless approach but one which is wise and asking the question “what can I do strategically to make the most fruitful Kingdom impact with the time and resources I have”.

It’s a model which doesn’t get blown around all over the place, or distracted from the central calling.

This model means you are looking for an opening to talk about Jesus, you are alert and trying to see the opportunities to introduce people to Jesus and to make disciples. You have a vision of what you want to see happen, how you would like the future to look (or how you believe God is calling you to shape the future) and how you envisage getting there.

The Apostle Paul was a pretty intentional guy, check out how he went to places with the express aim of talking about Jesus.

The danger with some organic missional stuff is it never actually quite gets around to you know talking about Jesus, and the group/community does its stuff but is it really producing global Christ-like disciples?

The danger with some intentional stuff, is we are too proscriptive and we don’t follow the spirit and listen to the community enough.

Yet I am wanting to be ‘intentionally organic’.

Taking the best from both.

In fact one phrase which our college used to say (or over say) was “hold that in tension” -often this is a silly way of ignoring a contradiction- but on some occasions (like this) the two seemingly opposing truths pull together, rather like an archers bow, and it is the tensions between the two truths that creates its power and its pull.

Yet when we are intentionally organic we are going into communities seeking out the people of peace, looking for the opportunities to build community, finding out where God is already at work and joining in. It’s putting something new into the DNA mix. It is altering the ingredients in the recipe.

Yet it is organic enough to evolve with the community, it’s not turning out ‘cookie cutter’ churches all resembling each other, it doesn’t know the end of the journey before it’s beginning, other than the desire, intention and corresponding action that something of heavens Kingdom is planted here amongst these people.

It is like the first night joining a new band with an instrument they’ve not had before and having a jam (maybe playing jazz, see previous blog) and as we improvise together somehow we create new music and new harmonies, but as you are tuning up no one quite knows how it is going to go, but there is an intention that together journeying will produce something hitherto not seen before.

It is the tension between all mission and ministry which is both proactive and reactive, always arriving and always departing, it is the double listening to God and the community, it is learning to be in step with the spontaneous spirit of God who is somehow a God of order rather than chaos.