I wrote a blog yesterday asking whether sometimes we drift too far away from talking about the cross, repentance, sin, holiness…
I’m loving our time at New Wine, but as our opening night ŵhen all the lights, power, tech all went down really made me think.
As many of you know we are trying to seek where God is calling us to best impact for Christ the area he has called us too.
One thought I’ve been wondering about is “have we made Church a bit too complicated?”
I also heard some else this week talk about how hard it is “doing Church”, now apart from the dodgy theology here –you can’t “do” what you already are!- it got me thinking.
I have long time been thinking that our current view of Church is very different that found in the book of Acts.
Rowan Williams the former Archbishop said “Church is the intentional community gathered around Jesus Christ” and more recently I heard a genius quote by Paula Gooder “The plural of disciple is Church”.
Do we make Church too complicated? Do we really need all the “stuff” –sometimes car loads of it!
As I began to pursue this thought in my mind, I remembered some of my greatest corporate experiences of God, “Church”, and I realised (other than the night I re-dedicated my life to Christ), all of them were spontaneous times with other Christian friends, often on beaches, hills, friends offices’, mates’ sitting rooms, very rarely actually in a special “Holy” building.
I wonder too, whether we get to worried about DOING Church and not enough about BEING Church, ordinary Christians met together and intentionally inviting Christ by his spirit to presence himself with his people (“where two or three are gathered together there I am in the midst of them” –Jesus).
Often we feel like we are unable to Ŵorship without the screen, words and music –rather than the overflow of our hearts thankfulness and praise expressed corporately…
Or perhaps we feel like we can’t pray out loud because we haven’t been to bible college and can’t make our prayers sound “proper”, but we can share our hearts with God with others, we don’t have to be some special holy person to simply love, pray and stand alongside our brothers and sisters…
Often we think that we can only share what God is saying to us and our hearts if we have been to Bible college, utter rubbish, go for it, if you think God is saying it why not share t and bless one another…
To often we have made Church too much come and watch the paid professionals lead, and just join in the singing bit… Rather, than Church equipping you to be the Church where ever you are and whatever you do.
I love the idea of a Church to spread the DNA of Jesus as widely as possible, and equipping the saints to be stewards ushering in the Kingdoms reign and rule, where gathering together and encouraging one another is just what we do when we meet other Christians we acknowledge the presence of the Lord with us, and listen to his voice and be expectant for his encounter and blessing.
Church is not about putting on services, but intentionally meeting together expectant of the presence of God to meet with us.
Perhaps, we ought maybe to intentionally seek out times not just to be with God personally, not just be with people who don’t yet know Jesus, but also intentionally seeking out time to be with our brothers in sisters in Christ to build us up and sharpen us in our faith (after all “iron sharpen iron as one person sharpens each other”).
Wondered maybe we need to be people who get together, bless one another and seek God and his face with expectancy.
Let’s learn to make our encounters with each other more like how Church should be.
And to do this we need to put aside our differences and love one another.
Too often we often just think about our vertical relationship with God when we have a service together, and too much about our horizontal relationships with each other when we aren’t in a religious building, but perhaps we need to mix the two up a bit, more of Christ in our relationships with each other, and maybe more of our relationships with each other in our encounters with God.
Let’s learn to be simple Church organically happening intentionally when we met up with other Christians, stoking the fire in one another for the sake of the glory of Jesus where ever we are.
Let’s just do it.
let’s just be it, everywhere we go and whatever we do.
Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish
21 Afterwards Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee.[a] It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus[b]), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’
‘No,’ they answered.
6 He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
In many ways this does feel like an apt picture of the Church… Struggling away fishing all night but with nothing, or at least not much, certainly not what we’d have liked or dreamed off, to show for our efforts…
These fishermen were professionals, they ought to be be able to fish, it was their specialism, their expertise… Yet today they probably felt a bit like frauds, fishermen who can’t fish.
Yet when they did listened to Jesus, his way worked, what is more it was more than they could handle and they had to ask the other boat to help…
I was at an event today with the leader -Pastor Yenku- from the Gate, a Baptist Church in Reading, who has seen the most remarkable number of people becoming Christians.
He spoke of how as an experienced Pastor he had it all mapped out, with ideas for a mini mission, follow up, alpha and discipleship explored, a nice neat structure, yet God started showing up, and his structures were like the nets in this story that couldn’t contain what God was doing.
In fact containing what God was doing, wasn’t the plan, rather to steward it wisely, the Holy Spirit blows where he wills, he doesn’t want to be contained within the Church, or even within the confinement of one individual Church or congregation, but rather like the picture from the passage above, causes us to need to work together with a mindset bigger than just our own boat, thinking not just our congregation but Gods Kingdom, and this Kingdom wants to break out onto the street.
The Pentecost story starts with the disciples hidden away behind closed doors and ends up with the Gospel having reached Rome… The gospel explodes and is uncontainable and spreads like wildfire across the (then known world), yet too often much of today’s Christianity looks pre-Pentecost rather than post Pentecost.
Pastor Yenku said “the challenge isn’t getting Christians into Church, but rather to get them out of it”. John Wimber talked of the Acts 2 Church and the ethos for Vineyard the Church he founded and he used to say “everyone gets to play” -in other words all the stuff isn’t just for biblical characters and crazy vicary types, but for everyone who follows Christ. David Pytches, the founder and former leader of New Wine, talked of “The meeting place (Church) is the training place for the market place”. Pastor Yenku challenged us as Church, asking whether we have kept this to ourselves.
This idea, that evangelism isn’t just for the evangelists, or for a few enthusiastic members but actually for all, ordinary, every day Christians (which is actually what we all are!)
In Reading one of the greatest evangelists is one of the teenagers from their youth group, and the great and good news is that for these young people that being hands on in mission and discipleship becomes for them normative Christianity.
In fact there are stories of people who have become Christians going back out into the street the next day, which often feels wrong for us as Church, which normally when someone becomes a Christian we keep them in Church and get them all Institutionalised and out of touch before we let them back out.
It’s risky, it’s messy, but actually it’s exciting, it’s what leadership I’m Christ’s Church is like, where we all go out and seek the Lord and work to see him glorified, meeting and starting not where we’d like the, but where we actually are.
A move of the spirit which takes the church from the builfings and uses its people to share the good news with those we meet.
I wrote this in 2012, which was a time when nearly all the Churches in Kingswood had different leaders, All Souls hadn’t been planted yet and nor had some of the more savage ‘sheep bites’, but even so, it is still the picture that I long to see God do in this area… Although now where it says Kingswood, I think we’d have to say BS15 as we now work in Hanham too… In places, there are signs of this vision becoming reality and in other places there is still a fair way to go… (Anyway, hope it blesses you!)
Kingswood High Street might be littered with church buildings, and true they do have their own congregations and their own unique quirks, habits, funny ways but in one sense they really are one Church because they are all sold out on loving Christ and making him known.
They are all wanting to be filled with the spirit of the living God, they cry out for the lost in their prayers, they seek to seize every opportunity that Christ gives to make him known -pray and proclamation go together here, woven together with a beautiful seemlessness.
The Christian’s here are deep and authentic about their faith and uncompromising in Holiness but awash with grace.
They pray together with such love that which congregation they belong to is hardly noticeable, they pray so passionately, and listen intently, and as they worship Christ in spirit and truth, the Church in Kingswood carries the very heartbeat of God.
It knows its identity, it is a holy and pure bride, but it is salt and light, wise as serpents but innocent as doves, it holds out the word that gives life, it shines out like stars in the darkness…
The church is attractive, marked as distinctive because of the hope that we have, filled with vibrant life, and deep authentic life shared together, this isn’t an hour on a Sunday morning and an otherwise disparate community, but these are the men and women of God, ambassadors of Christ, solider called to take the ground of Kingswood for Christ.
They are living sacrifices.
They chose Christ in all they do through out the week.
The seize the moment never missing an opportunity to bless and seek and see God’s Kingdom break in.
They are Church that hears God and has the courage to follow in obedience.
It is growing.
Ordinary people are meeting with an extraordinary God all the time, Kingdom encounters are normal part of our spiritual DNA.
The Churches are good incubators, people are loved, encouraged, mentored and walked with, we make disciples together as we all learn what following Jesus actually looks like.
People take risks on each other, leaders rise up from unlikely places, discipleship is organic and indigenous, and yet real and authentic with people being truly them and truly shining out Jesus.
Church looks funny, choatic even, but it is growing, it’s a movement of God in relationship, with people following where God leads, and it snowballs, it doesn’t play it safe and get comfortable, instead every group and sub group in Kingswood can hear about Jesus in a way they can understand..
This is the Church of Christ in Kingswood.
It is good news for all who are lost, hurting, marginalised, disenfranchised, ostracised, broken, it is good news for all. It is a community that reflects Jesus to the wider community.
It is a loving community, filled with compassion, and it is by this that all people know we belong to Christ, that we love one another…
There are many things in life which are best left to the professionals, as my attempts at DIY often shout out loud and clear.
Sadly however this is often the mentality of people within Churches, mission, discipleship, justice and love -let’s leave it to the professionals, “I’ll just show up to Church, bung a couple of quid in the plate and let them get on with it”.
Some how we seem to have developed a ‘professional class’ of Christian which seems to misunderstand what a Christian is. I re-thought ‘professionalism’ when I worked in rehab, many of the people who are leaders in the world of rehab are also addicts in active recovery, when choosing a sponsor and addict is asked to find “someone whose recovery inspires you”.
I might be a Vicar, but I am also a wounded healer, a cracked vessel and a sinner in need of the grace of God, all I have to offer is that I know that Jesus is the one who heals, saves, restores and transforms he is the very embodiment and personification of love, the God of all Hope and he is able to meet us even in our most dark, broken and painful situations.
Louis Giglio once said “I am not all knowing, I am not all powerful, I am not all loving and all present, unlike God who is the great I AM, -I AM who I AM- I am all know, I am all powerful, I am all loving and I am all present” and he ended this talk with our identity as Christians which is “I know that I am not, but I know I am”.
Ultimately it is not the us in us that is worth anything but rather it is “Christ in us the Hope of Glory”.
Before the cross of Christ the ground is even, and all stand there, sinners in need of grace.
Yet this blog isn’t to knock the Vicary types, but instead it is to remind us of a truth that John Wimber once said: “Everyone gets to play”, mission, discipleship. justice, prayer and love aren’t for the ‘Super Christians’ it is something we are all expected to do, everyone, not just those with a leadership position.
In fact Church (by which I mean our shared life together) is further described by Wimber as “the training place for the market place”, in other words by being together we should be more equipped and empowered to live the life that God is calling us to.
The Bible uses some great images of inter-dependency, for example, the body with each bit needing one another, looking different but being equal in value, or perhaps the idea of living stones built together for the glory of God.
We are called, empowered and equipped to serve Christ in his world, and yet sadly too many people don’t take responsibility for their own discipleship… A Vicar Friend once said of his congregation “they expect me to spoon feed them, but I don’t think this is healthy!” -He’s right, a good teacher teaches people to think for themselves, just as a parent teaches a child to feed themselves.
Yet this is something that happened in the early Church too, the author of the letter to the Hebrews challenges the people to move on and go deeper ‘leaving the elementary things behind”, Peter talks of “pure spiritual milk” but the implication is that milk will lead on to solid food, both writers are saying “you are still on (Spiritual) milk when you should be eating (Spiritual) steak by now”… You are splashing in the spiritual shallow end, when the call is to swim in the Ocean, so get off the side-lines, get out the baby pool, go for it and live the Christian life properly and fully.
Sadly too often we aren’t the disciples of Christ we should be, we need to own our own faith, taking the opportunities to grow, to serve, to learn, to be stretched/challenged/inspired/strengthened/grown…
In the wild, baby eagles are thrown from their nests by their mothers in order to make them fly (they are saved if they fall to the ground) but here God is saying, you need to leave the nest and fly.
God is wanting us to mature disciples equipped to serve him in his world with his calling surrounding us on every side…
|“This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.
Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done”
Some lets be people that seize the moment, let’s not wait for someone better qualified, but take our responsibility for bringing something of heaven to earth…
We all get to participate and partner with God in his mission.
…After all Mission is really just “One beggar telling another where to get bread”
I’m sat here, on my own in the Chasers lounge, with my clerical collar on, a bit like ‘Billy no-mates!’ -or Perhaps a Rev. Billy No-Mates.
The idea and vision behind this was to build relationships within the town centre community and then be in the same place available each week, talking about the issues of life and offering prayer, indeed I have been doing something similar on a Wednesday evening in first Weatherspoon’s and then the Kings Arms.
I do feel this was from God, but at the moment, I just feel a bit of a lemon stuck here in my dog collar typing away, every time the door opens wonder, is this someone coming to join me, but no…
This made me think a bit theologically, I’m sure this is from God so am not planning to quit anytime soon, I remember a great quote from Bill Wilson of Metro Ministries (the worlds largest Sunday School in New York, working in the toughest areas of the city) “Christians often quit before the miracles kick in”.
When we launched the Street Pastors 6 years ago, we were reminded of a Bible verse; Galatians 6:9 “Do not grow weary in doing good but at the right time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up…”
But also, I’ve been pondering the ideas between waiting and seeking, waiting can be a bit of an abdication, an inactive and passive word, just hanging about…
Where seeking is active, it’s participating, it walks over across the room, and is prepared to look a little bit foolish, in the hope and expectation that God might be doing something.
Theologically we are called to be seekers after God, the ‘waiting on God’ is often (but not always) a way dressing up laziness in spiritual sounding language!
It is easy to just sit here, but there is something about looking and seeking for where God is opening up conversations, sometimes requires a smile, making oneself approachable, maybe a conversation about nothing much so that a conversation and much can happen (someone once said “Christian’s that never build bridges to reach out to people wonder why they don’t get opportunities to talk about Jesus!)
Also, sat here, more or less on my own, it helped me to re-think the importance of one…Although on my own today, I have had little conversations, an small opportunities over the weeks and months I have been doing this… Often in one’s and two’s, small numbers and small conversations, but I am reminded that scripture reminds me “not to despise the day of small things” (Zech.4.10).
I love the story of the woman at the well, a great story of Jesus having an impromptu (and socially inappropriate!) chat with a Samaritan Woman (Jn 4).
Yet in the passage before we see that Jesus has been busy with a million and one ministry things (his disciples baptizing people left right and center, interestingly they were baptist them, before they had fully grasped who Jesus was, wondering if this has something to do with our desire to be busy?!) and yet he has time for the one.
Do we sometimes loose track of the significance of the one, because we want bigger things, do we sometimes give up when Jesus says keep going, are what we think are failures, simple contractions of a new birth (births are rarely quick).
Actually is the success anything to do with us anyway?
Aren’t we just called to be faithful?
So for the time being, I will stay in this Coffee Shop with my dog collar, lap top, and take any opportunity to chat and engage with anyone God places across my path.
When I was 19 I did a year out and I worked with this guy Tony Washington, who used to do training in Youth and Children’s Work, and we used to do lots of very long journeys around the North East. I remember having a conversation about why (at that time) I didn’t like Bishops (I like a number of Bishops now!) and for some reason this popped back into my head this week.
I had just come back to God, a friend had died and that had made me re-evaluate what did (and didn’t really matter), and I had realized through her death something of the urgency of the gospel… If you die apparently not knowing Jesus then there is no assurance of salvation, and that is scary.
I had the eyes of a new believe looking at a creaky Church institution and was asking where is the urgency? Why were the people who were meant to be leading us seem so chilled out about people coming to know Jesus?
If this stuff (salvation) really matters why does everyone seem to be faffing around on things that aren’t important? Why when we have a Church full of not-yet-believers do we get a sermon about…I dunno what but it lost me… (and I knew about half of the long words they were using!)
The 19 year old me wanted to see fire, passion, wanted to see a vision to reach out and change the world for Christ and instead it just wasn’t happening.
I wanted to see leaders I could rally around and follow.
We need “Saints” people who inspire and encourage us in our faith (not advocating putting people on pedestals) but we do need to see faith lived out around us in inspiring ways.
Church and its leadership did (and does) sometimes think that jaded apathy, gloomy defeatism is somehow a sign of greater spiritual maturity and that youthful fire was ‘a bit naïve’ I was (somewhat patronisingly told) -maybe people were trying to save me from disappointments (of which there have been plenty, but I’d rather have disappointments and failures than have flat-lined a faded away).
Fortunately no one told the apostles or the heroes of Hebrews 11 that they were being a bit too enthusiastic (or if they did I’m glad they were ignored!)
Teenagers and young adults are a heroic age, God has placed idealism, enthusiasm and fire within us and we want to make a difference, we want to change the world.
There are plenty of places which will give a compelling vision for world transformation, politics, charity works, self-help guru’s…
Yet why isn’t the Church at the forefront of inspiring people to change the world, because we have the highest and the greatest of commissions “to go into all the world and make them my disciples!”, “May your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven!”.
I think actually over the past 20 years Bishops have got better at spearheading vision of mission and justice… but our
Churches are sometimes tired old institutions that sap our energy, quash our enthusiasm, damped our vision and sow seeds of doubt to our calling.
I remember reading Richard Dawkins who said of Christianity in the UK that is was “mostly harmless” -this idea that Christ’s Church isn’t doing anything much, isn’t what Christ wants.
I want a dangerous faith…
I want to be part of something that will last forever.
I want to be part of the greatest move on the planet for human good.
We need a revolution.
We need a return to Acts 2.
Let’s see Church rise from her slumber and once again change the world.
Are you with me in this dream?
If so, let’s turn this dream into a reality?