call, cost, Evangelism, Journey, Kingdom, Monasticism, Pilgrimage, Pioneer, Post-modern-culture, ready, rejection, Risk and Change, Salvation, Simplicity, St. Francis, vocation

A Cunning Plan…

People are asking me all the time what am I going to do once I leave (especially about money).

It is hard because the honest answer is “I don’t know, God hasn’t shown me yet” which as someone who normally knows where they want to go, has a strategy and is forging ahead, this is pretty uncomfortable place.

I have said I will spend October until Christmas seeking God and praying (although I’ll also try and find some way of earning some cash too, unless Allana can keep me as a kept man!)

I do want to learn to be a better husband and dad, heart-breaking phrase from Hope was about being glad I’m not going to be a Vicar anymore as she will see more of me as I wont always be working. As you can imagine how much that phrase was like a knife in my heart.

Somehow in making personal sacrifices for ministry, we end up causing our loved ones to suffer in a way that I don’t believe God intended.

One thing I remain passionate about is telling people, who want to know about Jesus, about Jesus.

And some thinking is beginning to emerge in my head and heart.

Recently I have become aware that two phrases I hear all the time, is “I don’t like ‘hit and run’ evangelism” and I want to be a Church like the book of Acts.

which is ironic as Acts is full of hit and run evangelism, as are the gospels, Jesus only did ministry for three years (that’s shorter than a curacy in the Church of England), he sent the 12 and the 72 out to go into the cities, towns and villages and then to come back. The book of Acts is entirely “hit and run” S/Paul the great missionary only stayed in Ephesus for a year -ironic as the average clergy stay is 7 years. More-over it seems to have taken about half an hour for the Church in Ethiopia to be planted (as it appears as though he went back home with his faith, told others and by God’s grace the Church took root and grew).

As I thought more about this, the greatest missionary movement outside the Acts of the Apostles -St. Francis of Assisi- again saw people travelling from place to place, just as Wesley too was captivated by his assurance of Christ and went from place to place telling other people about Jesus.

Yet why has that stopped? why have we become so settled in our communities? why have we lost this urgency of the gospel which we want to tell everyone and go to the ends of the earth if necessary?

why do the only people that seem to go from place to place talking about Jesus nowadays are the big name speakers, staying in plush hotels, and speaking to large audiences (most of whom -est. 70% are already Christians) in luxury venues with massive sound-desks and lighting rigs and a ton of equipment.

Yet Jesus sent the 12 and the 72 out without even a second jacket, knowing that the gospel was enough. -How come todays Christianity looks so clunky? why is it so like Saul’s armour, slow and immoveable?

Recently we planted a Church, its been tough, recently I sat in a meeting and they were talking about all this Churchy procedure and just felt like something in me was dying (I’d already resigned by that point, but it certainly confirmed by decision). why is establishing a new Christian community so full of human beaucracy, it was jobs-worthy we need to remember that Jesus matters more than red tape!

A year ago I blogged about “Simple Church” we make it so complicated when really it is simply gathering together, worshiping and learning together about how we follow Christ and sharing together bread and wine. Today I was chatting to a minister who talked about “Pop Up Church”, the idea of Churches shooting up all over the place, travelling light, trying stuff out, mobile and seeking where works the best and through it all people discovering and growing in Christ.

This model of Jesus, Francis and Wesley relied not on “paid professionals” coming in and teaching us how to do Church, but rather empowering people from day one, it was collaborative, it was free from really unhelpful “provider client” baggage, or of preacher/pastors needing to be needed. The preacher was off to the next town, so “all hands on deck”.

Perhaps this next season might involve simple mission, just telling people who are interested about Jesus (so often in all the fuss, noise, events, buildings, fundraising, activity we forget that we are meant primarily to be telling people about Jesus). Simple Church, that makes simple disciples that live for Christ and transform the world.

Church that keeps on moving, place to place, keeps on planting again and again, and keeps on going until this nation is changed and transformed.

Perhaps this is the new monasticism I’ve longed for looks like, people simply talking about Jesus going from place to place, and setting up Churches as we go. Not every Church will grow and flourish, but -God willing- some will.

So, come January, maybe somehow can work out a way of simply doing this, which looks to me like mission as Jesus intended, very simple yet very challenging. Simply talking Jesus -and showing him by how we live our lives- seeing Churches literally popping up, some will live and some might not make it, and as we step into all that God has for us, seeing the great commission fulfilled and “disciples being made”…

I don’t know yet how this will look, and maybe it’s just an unrealistic dream, a bonkers thought, or maybe, just maybe, there might be a gleam -a momentary glimpse- of a possible future that maybe starting to be born…

And maybe it is a challenge for us, maybe this vision might reasonate with you, or maybe God has a new vision for you about to be born, maybe he’s calling you to lay something down, in order in his time to pick something else up.

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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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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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call, Depression, Discipleship, Fear, Guidance, Kingdom, Life in the Spirit, Life styles, obidience, Pioneer, vocation

Don’t stop Pioneering!

I remember walking (or rather floating) to work having just made a re-commitment to God, I was excited, I knew God had changed my life, I longed to see more of him at work, I was hungry.

Later I went off to work for a Church in wakefield, I saw their leader step out in faith and God doing wonderful things.

For the last 20 years I have worked for various Churches and I worry sometimes that I’ve lost my fire, or at least that fire has cool, the lion has lost something of its roar!

I am at a Church where although I’m one of the clergy nearly everyone there is older than me, and when I talk about stepping out in faith I get hit regularly with this bucket of cold pessimism and defeatism, one guy in particular seems to champion the “God will never do it here” corner, which is really tough.

The last 7 years have been unbelievably  tough -people who call themselves Christians can be just so mean and inch by inch you feel more and more deflated by this critical spirit tapping away all the time.

I have been crying out to God for break through, more recently if I’m honest I have been crying out to God for rescue.

Often people (probably well meaningly) talk about how they did great exploits for God when they were young too, I think this is meant to encourage me, and I praise God that they were on fire and did do “mission England” or the “decade of evangelism” but I look at them and think I don’t want to believe my faith in believing in God’s ability to transform is simply “naive youthful exuberance” and “jaded cynicism” is somehow spiritual and actually maturity. At my interview someone said “no one expects miracles in Kingwood”. I believe this is a lie, a demonic lie, maturity in Christ is not youthful naivety.  I don’t see “settling down and being comfortable” as part of the call of God on our lives, we are called to follow him ALL the days of our life, not just those reckless early years or at the start of our walk with him.

This is meant to be our daily reality, not just a nostalgic dream.

At this time of struggle, it is a time to pick up and ‘pioneer again’, to not settle for simply what we already have, but to push onto God for more of him, more of his Kingdom.

He may have given us stories we can dine out on and sound spiritual in the past, and I’m sure they will continue to be used for blessing, but like the manna the Israelites ate yesterdays manna does stale and there is plenty for each day.

As we get older our energy can decrease, and we value comfort more.

Do we have the energy to start again? To keep on following Jesus where he calls us? To the new challenge? To the new role? To the new mantle? CS Lewis reminds us “You are never too old to set a new goal or dream another new dream” -especially when that dream is put inside you by the spirit of the living God.

“But gradually the worries of life and the decifulness of wealth constrain the bloodrush of youth, we tame the wild and call is wise”-Pete Greig.

It is the nature of the human condition to pioneer and then too settle, yet God is calling us not to be settled, this earth is not our home, instead we are citizens of heaven.

we have responsibilities too, what of my wife? what of my children? These are valid questions, but God is able to take care of them, he is able to be faithful with them.

“But is he?” I ask myself, we are struggling here, it seems like the water is rising up and up, and hanging on to the promise that he wont let us drown. I remembered the story of Joseph, and God was faithful to Joseph, but before Joseph got to the Palace he first had to go through the Pit and the Prison.

The problem when we are in a pessimistic environment it can become so corrosive to our faith, to believe differently from the people around us is tough, sometimes being a Christian really does feel like swimming against the tide, and somehow it feels harder to swim against the tide within Churches because it feels like they ought to get it, but sadly they don’t, or they choose not too, and that can be a really tough place to be, it’s the place of Moses with the people of Israel, it was a really tough 40 year desert journey, and he only got to glimpse the promised land, but when he did I know that he would have thought that none of this was done in vain.

God is faithful and is with us even when it doesn’t feel like it, and maybe this side of eternity we will never understand why God led us on the path that he did, why he closed some doors and allowed other doors to open. Yet despite it all, and sometimes through gritted teeth, I still choose to believe that God is good..

Sometimes the place of pain traps us and paralysis us, leaving us unable to move on, Abra(h)ams Father Terah was on his way to the land of Canaan, yet he settled in Haran, the place he names after his son -also called Haran which is clearly not a co-incidence- Haran  died, and Terah settled here in his grief.  I believe God is saying to us all today not to let pain stop you in your tracks.

Pete Greig says this “It is easy to pioneer when you’re too young to know what it will cost you, when you feel immortal and invincible and the whole of life is an adventure waiting to begin. but Pioneering a second time is hard”.

Yet let’s be Spiritual Abraham’s, never settling for what we have, but pushing on despite the challenges and not getting entangled in the comfort, for the more of God and his Kingdoms. we are not called to be settlers but pioneers.

Don’t stop pioneering, keep going, let’s persevere, let’s see the new thing, the new dream that God has for each one of us.

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Kingdom, Ministry, Mission

Equip the Saints…

Equip the Saints for works for service”…

The whole vicary thing is something I have been thinking about a lot recently, partly I guess as Sam is going through the same process as I went through about a decade ago (which makes me feel very old!)…

As you probably are aware I think that the role of a minister is to “equip the saints for works of service” as in other words it is you guys who are on the front line in your office, work, social, family environments, probably in a month meeting shed loads of people who don’t yet know Jesus… The question I think we need to ask is what can we (us weird vicary types) do to help and equip you to be more effective and fruitful in working out the ministry God has called you to within the place he has set you.  This isn’t a rhetorical question, we really want to know?

I read an interesting article from a friend of mine, Kevin, who said he was told to be the Vicar of the parish and not a chaplain to a small bunch of old people left in the building; it is an interesting paradox that those inside the Church can easily take up all your time, and they feel that as ‘their vicar’ you are somehow ‘their staff’ -true we do serve them, but there is something about the number of ministers/vicars/pastors who come with a passion to see the world come to know Christ and end up mediating between the crisis of the flower rota or some such triviality.  Bishop Nick was saying to Kevin, you’re job is to equip the saints for the works of service, but let us not forget that the Church actually is the only global institution which exists for its non members.

Perhaps this is another ‘tightrope’ we have to walk, where we need to be people who equip each other not just for ministry on a Sunday Morning, but a Monday morning too… (we’re all in full time Christian Ministry, I say that ‘your in full time Christian Ministry if you love Jesus and have a pulse!’)… I think too often our Churches have become places where people escape from the world, rather than places that equip us to impact and transform the world. Sometimes I think with some of these seminars and courses knocking around, that this actually keeps us from being out and about and sharing our lives with not yet believers.

Interesting stat is we in the west  spend 75% more on Church growth stuff (course/books/conferences etc) than the developing world and yet interestingly where is there substantial Kingdom growth, in the developing world.

I think some questions need to be asked about why?

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Kingdom, Mission, Mission Shaped Church, paradigm shift, perspectives, vocation

Unique people working our a unique call in a unique context.

We started our short Mission Shaped Intro Course yesterday, and we ended up speaking about our own uniqueness.

We all are made differently, I have often looked at other Church leaders and other evangelists and thought “I wish I was more like them!”, often too we have looked at different areas and opportunities and thought “I wish God had placed me somewhere different”.

Yet the “one who calls us is faithful, and he will do it”.

We are called to live by faith and not by sight.

The question in the Christian life has never been “what is everyone else doing?” but rather “what is God calling me to do?”

Taking a step of faith is very different from jumping on the bandwagon.

As human beings we are great ‘cherry pickers’, we see an idea that works somewhere else, or a methodology we like the sound of, and try and ‘shoe-horn’ it into our context. As though what works else-where can simply be transposed somewhere else and have the same results. Yet, I believe, God isn’t into formulas like this =otherwise I think Paul’s letters would read very differently- the question is not “how has this worked elsewhere” but rather “what is God calling us to do here” and are we being faithful to that call.

What is the Spirit saying to us as a collection of Church Congregations seeking the advancement of the Kingdom of God here locally must be the biggest and most important question we can ask.

“If the Lord does not build the house then the Labourers labour in vain”, we see that Jesus (who “only did what he saw his Father doing?”) doing ministry differently from how he was in Samaria to how he was in Jerusalem to what he did in Nazareth. Jesus didn’t think ‘one size fits all’ -so why do we? -Interestingly, contrast the missional technique between Peter and Paul when they spoke evangelistically (Peter in Acts 2, Paul in Acts 15).

Just imagine if Paul -a former Pharisee- tried to mimic Peter -a former fisherman- it wouldn’t work because God was calling them as them to minister into the context to which God had called them.

I think as human beings we are often scared and fearful, we dislike uncertainty and want the promise of “sure-fire” results, God’s ways might sound more risky and more of a step of faith than down-loading the latest resource from a mega0church, but yet it is only through obedience to God that we will see the full fruitfulness of that which we long too see.

The problem is we often think that “so and so” would probably do a much better job if they were here than I have.  The problem (says James Lawrence) “is that we compare our blooper reel with someone else’s highlight reel”, our comparisons are often negative towards ourselves, often when we feel weak and ill-equipped often that means we aren’t relying on our own giftedness rather relying on Gods empowering faithfulness.

Comparisons, can be debilitating.

It takes faith to come to realise that actually God has called me to be me, and my unique blend of skills, passions and principals is called, God doesn’t need another clone of anyone, he needs us to be us, and we flourish best when we are being truly and authentically us.

I remember seeing someone engaging in interactive debate, and this really worked for their more ‘in your face’ personality. I have seen others listen carefully and prayerfully and this has really worked for their personality. If we were all a debaters or all listeners we would be a less effective body of Christ, yet perhaps the reason he is sending you in to the situation you find yourself in, in that you are the right person, God’s person, for that particular situation, everyone is different, and everyone responds differently, even if we don’t see it at first!.

Also, as the wonderful “Meet Anne” video shows, we have networks and relationships which are unique to us, no-one else has quite the same set of relationships that we do, being us -and fully us- fully and authentically where God has placed us can enable us to be used by God in a way that’s unique to us.

Also, God uses all sorts of creative ways to advance his Kingdom, my friend Rich Rycroft used his love of football to advance the Kingdom in Hillfield, my friend Charles Sugdan from Frenchay uses his awesome gifts at classical music to enable people to encounter Christ, yet neither of which I would be able to do, but it takes faith to believe that my gifts and skills, passions and pleasures can be used by Christ too (just check out the vlog bellow)…

So, let’s celebrate God’s call on our lives to be free to be us.

So, let’s celebrate God’s call to discover his call to us where he has placed us.

So, let’s celebrate that we don’t have to do what everyone else does, instead even our most random quirks of character can become Kingdom advancing facets.

I discovered the word ‘bespoke’ -you are a ‘bespoke’ ambassador of Christ, made unique for the glory of Christ.

You have a totally unique context, to a unique mix of people and network of relationships, and you have been ‘head hunted’ by the God of all creation to reveal him to his people.

The Spirit of God has a bespoke plan for our areas and context, its not just another course, or another project, but a unique plan that will work for us, taylor-made evangelism made to measure for individuals in a unique context.

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Church, Kingdom, Mission, Unity

United we Stand?

Unity, is an interesting topic.

Unity our first glimpse of unity is within the character of God himself, having both diversity and unity within the Godhead.
One of the earliest statements from God on the human condition was about unity, ‘it is not good for a person to be alone’, which seems at odds with our massively individualistic culture.
John Donne said: “no man is an island”, we were created  for relationship, we created to be united with each other and with God.
God created a diverse universe, and yet before the fall there was unity within that diversity.
So, unity, what’s there to say?

If you forgive me I’m going to go around the houses a bit as I think about unity.

Sometimes we think we are being unified is meaning a vaguely pleasant relationship with the other local Churches, we might even sit through the occasional Churches Together meeting -or Fraternals- where traditionally we spend our time dipping rich tea biscuits into weak coffee in a ‘church hall green’ cup with a saucer avoiding any topic which might be contentious.

This isn’t  unity.

This is a veneer of unity.

Unity is not a bland tolerance of each other, nor it is passive or pointless as so many things that sometimes wear the ‘unity’ badge can be.

In fact  sometimes those of us who are passionate about unity often paradoxically are the people who also people who rock the boat.

I believe unity is pointless unless we are united IN something.  We as Christians are united IN Christ.

We often forget that scripture calls us primarily to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God’ yet too often although we pay lip service to this command of Christ, we don’t live it out, our primary directive.

Our primary aim is to seek the mission statement of Jesus when he taught his disciples to pray “may your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”…

I recently spoke at a men’s event about passion, because I believe apathy is what is crippling much of the Church in this area and across both our nation and western Europe too, we are not seeking God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven, other things are getting out of perspective and this is why unity breaks down.

It is a call to carry our cross, a call on the narrow way, a call to go out like sheep among wolves, it is a difficult tight rope to walk, one that will at times not make us popular. A call to challenge in love our brothers and sisters in Christ, it is also a challenge to let our  brothers and sisters in Christ challenge us (also hopefully in love).

We are united in the one in whom there are no male or female, black or white, rich or poor, jew or gentile, ordained or lay person, but makes us all one IN him.

Also apathy is indifferent to each other, so overlooks the commands to love, to ‘each others needs to prefer’, true biblical unity is a surrender to God of our own ideas, agendas and baggage… the greatest key for unity is both love, grace and wisdom, we don’t have to agree on everything, there are some issues where our theological differences make partnering difficult in some instances, but we are called to love one another, we are called to serve one another, it’s not up to us to pick our team, but to us to work with those whom God sets alongside us, ultimately God is the team captain not us.

If we are going to be people that seek first the Kingdom of God, then much of our differences fall away, in fact when we engage in mission our pettiness suddenly seems much less  important than it was.

I’ll close with an image from the crucifixion where Jesus was carrying his cross, and I suspect was praying “God help me carry this cross”, he trips and falls and Simon of Cyrene helps him carry his cross, a picture of vertical and horizontal living; God I need to help carry my cross,  I need you -my brothers and sisters in Christ- to help me carry my cross….

…and by the way, I will help you carry yours  too.

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