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.

Standard
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”.

Standard
Journey, Leadership, legacy, Life in the Spirit, Life styles, Life Together, obidience, ordination

Ten Years on…

Thinking about the guys being ordained this as and last weekend reminded me that for me and cohort we are coming up to the tenth anniversary of our ordinations (actually mine is in September).

Looking back, the first thing struck me is the number of people I have lost touch with (other than the odd ‘like’ on facebook).
Yet as I think back, a few things struck me about the 10 years was…Thinking of some of the guys I trained with one thing struck me, two guys full of charm, charisma and great gifting both ended up in prison due to dreadful behaviour…
A real shock.
And a real tragedy.
Glittering prospects ended up crashing and burning.
So important to be people of integrity and appropriateness in all our relationships, and to hold ourselves to account with trusted people to have those transparent relationships… Perhaps if my former colleagues had done so, perhaps they might still be in ministry and real people wouldn’t have been hurt and the cause betrayed.
Made me wonder too whether we put too much store on people’s competence, charm and charisma and not enough value on character.
Another thought struck me comes from one of my prayer triplet, who was very doubtful and anxious about future fruitfulness, yet 10 years later he had achieved amazing things and now chair of the committee for mission for the Church in Ireland amongst other achievements.
I guess as I think of my cohort I guess I am reminded of the verse of the bible which talks of God opposing the proud but lifting the humble.
I remember having to write a letter to some emerging leaders as part of my arrow course and I remember writing do keep the most important thing (Jesus) as the most important thing, as it is so easy to get distracted and diverted. I have found that clergy can be like the government ministers in Yes (Prime)Minister who actually go into parishes and Churches full of vision and fire and end up becoming “native” being “house trained” by the congregation acting like the civil service in the aforementioned comedy programme. We want to tell people about Jesus and somehow we end up filling in forms about drains, and trying to pacify arguements over trivialities.
Ten years on I still love Jesus but feel as though I am only managing to hold into his church by my fingertips, the temptation (as with many people my age) is to embrace being ‘post church’ partly due to just seeing how unchristlike churches can be, sometimes behaving worse than the people who aren’t Christians in the world… This shouldn’t be so.
Sadly too often it feels like trying to lead the charge onward for mission only to find some unprincipled parishioner had left down your tyres… How do we challenge and change this culture? The challenge to challenge people who have been here decades and are twice our age, but people need to know that such behaviour jepodizes the community coming to Christ and coming to fullness and to be that salt and light of truth telling is painful, uncomfortable and difficult. We all want to be liked and yet the call has often been to be the grit in the oyster, the bringer of challenge, and to show and tell a different story, one of a different future.
This future is one of hope, and yet being caught in the middle of challenging churches, it is easy to allow our vision of hope to be deminished and to become jaded and cynical. How do we keep our hearts soft, our minds open and expectant for God to act, this is not nativity but rather remembering the greater story of a God who reigns on high and longs to partner with his people to turn this broken and upside down world the right way up for him.
And finally to end all, the last thought I want to share is the call to change and transform is a call to the long hall, it’s not glamourous, often it is hard to get back up after being knocked down and after disappointments, but even so it is worth it.
So to conclude, the challenge of the heart, the challenge to invest in character that lasts rather than charm and charisma that are pretty tempory,
To keep out edge sharp and keep the most important thing as the most important thing, keepin going even when the “home team” let us down and hurt us, and to keep going even amid the on going challenge to still be here and fighting, to still be remaining in the game is an achievement.
I’ll close with a verse that has blessed me over the last 10 years “Do not become weary in doing good for at the right we will reap a harvest if we do mot give up” Gal. 6:9.
Standard
community of grace, Compassion, Falibility, Family, forgiveness, Fruit and fruitfulness, Hopes and Dreams, inclusion, inter-dependance, Life Together, Uncategorized

One Another…

Did you know there are 59 “one another verses” in the New Testament?

#Love one another…
#Pray for one another…
#Encourage one another…
#Serve one another…
#Support one another…
#Forgive one another…
#Bless one another…
#Carry one another’s burdens…

Yet bizarrely I find one of the toughest parts of being a Vicar is that you can sometimes feel really lonely. It has been said “Jesus sent the disciples out in 2’s but in the Church of England you’re on your own”!

The Victorians used to believe that a persons religion was a personal and private thing, a lie we’ve embraced as a culture made worse by our increasingly individualistic culture.

We need I believe to recapture the togetherness of when Church is meant to be a family, yet some of us have become so institutionalised into the mould of ‘lone-ranger-vicardom’ that we need the help of this family, to help us learn another way, and another new normal.

We need for Church to become a safe place afresh which gives people the confidence to be vulnerable, because they are held in a place of love.

The problem at the heart of this, as with much in the Church culture, in pains and hurts which causes us to suffer on our own, and often in silence, which causes Church to become polite and even friendly. Yet as I have said before, I don’t want to be part of a friendly Church, but rather work out a way of being a Church where people can make friends in. After all at All Souls’ motto is “where strangers become friends and friends meet with Jesus”.

Perhaps the problem is that in Church people can be more likely to give you a piece of their mind than a piece of their heart.

Sadly we hear these horror stories of people professing to be Christians who…
#hurt one another…
#gossip about one another…
#(try) controlling one another…
#bicker with one another…
#running down one another…
#compete unhelpfully with one another…

All of which makes Churchless and less like the foretaste and outpost of heaven that it should be.

Is our behaviour more the first list or the second?

What do we need to change in us, to help our Christian Communities resemble the one perfect community of love which is at the heart of who God is when revealed as Father Son and Holy Spirit.

Standard