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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Mission, Mission Shaped Church, Pioneer, Post-modern-culture, prayer, presence, Worship

Pints Of View…

We have been continuing our work with Pints of View, being available for people to talk to us, I go to the local pub the Kings Arms and Wetherspoon’s wearing my collar each Wednesday to make myself accessible to the local people who might want to chat.

The more Catholic end of the spectrum of the Church teaches us a lot about the power of presence, of the importance of ‘just being there’ and ‘being available’.

Keeping the rumour of God alive. Putting a human (and smiling approachable) face on the faceless institution of the Church.

Over the years’ I have been here much of my thinking and efforts has been about learning to be good guests on other peoples’ turf, being prepared to meet people where they are at, where they go and where they hang out, rather than our somewhat naïve and arrogant idea of expecting them to ‘come to us’.

One of the project I have worked hard with is the setting up of the Kingswood Street and School Pastors, where Christian volunteers wander around our local communities where we try and make it as easy as possible for those who want to chat to have a conversation with a Christian. Friendly, accessible, warm approachable, sadly not words we always associate with Church.

Yet, we want to offer more than just a conversation on a street corner, but the opportunity for a longer conversation if people wanted, being in the same place at the same time regularly, so that people if they want to can join us. We soon discovered that for most people -even if we’d had a good chat with them- never came to a Church service on Sunday (despite many saying that they would), maybe it was just too bigger jump for them? Perhaps having a chat in a pub was more of a manageable step for people.

 This is something we have been doing regularly in some form for the past 4 or 5 years, in different pubs, and trying different things. Sometimes I have been joined by another Christian friend -or two-, and sometimes just on my own, sometimes no conversations with anyone at all, other times have birthed some wonderful kingdom opportunities, and some new friendships -this week was invited by a couple of guys who aren’t Churchy to join their team for the pub quiz, which was a lot of fun even if we didn’t win!

Recently we changed or format again, my friend Mike who runs the pub called the Kings Arms (what a fab name for a Church!) has let us use a side room to meet up in, so we have started our evenings with a bit of prayer and one week my friend Wes brought a guitar and we worshipped a bit (if you are interested in hearing more about it, do check it out here….).

Interestingly God has been speaking to Wes about the power of worship, somehow worship seems to alter the spiritual DNA of the place. In the summer at an outreach event, Wes and his team had some worship on the streets, with preaching and flyers, the manager of the shopping centre stopped the flyers and the preaching, but allowed the worship to continue, yet it was through the worship which led someone to pray a prayer of commitment. Worship is powerful, worship changes things, worship changing us.

So, we decided to do a service in the little room, with the hope that people could drift from the bar and join us, in many way this was doing a service almost as a prophetic action to say we believe that Church will be birthed here. I’d asked my friend Regan to do a bit of a talk.

I’d sent out emails, put it on facebook, but still was worried that no one would come.

Regan was the first to arrive, which made me feel more worried, if no one showed up it would feel more awkward, especially if Regan had spent ages preparing this would be uncomfortable.

Yet gradually a few people came, in fact there was about 6 of us. My friend David led some worship songs on the guitar with the words printed out on a bit of paper. I looked around, we were quite a broad mix really, mix of ages, from different Churches, everything from AOG to Roman Catholic.  

It felt somewhat self-conscious knowing people could hear us praying and our worship, it felt a bit like a step of faith stick our neck out for Christ.

Although we just singing a few songs accompanied by a couple of guitars, but there was a real sense of God’s presence, everyone there was hungry for more of Gods Kingdom to break into our community.

Was this Church? -Yes! Rowan Williams defined Church as “an intentional community centred around Christ Jesus”.

It made me wonder:

Do we make Church too complicated?

 Do we make Church too static and inflexible?

Are we far too bound up by our buildings?

Our we too wedded to our history of the hallowed Sunday morning hour ideology which has no scriptural base?

My heart longs to be a simply Church, flexible, deployable but still being authentic church community moving into the heart of our community.

As we worshipped a sense of God’s presence was tangible, perhaps in this season God is longing to be encountered rather than just explained?

Then my friend Regan shared a few words, mainly his testimony, was reminded afresh of the power of our story, interestingly this is the most common question I get asked? “What made you go religious?”/ ”Why did you become a Vicar?” -people want to know our story.

When we encounter people and they see that in many ways we are both Christians and people like them, that brings an unsaid challenge that ‘people like me can be Christians’.

Perhaps part of the failure our Churches is they simply don’t look like the communities in which they are situated?

Within his testimony, Regan spoke about his journey of faith, he spoke of how one of his relatives in Zimbabwe used to pray for him regularly, and I wonder how many of the people in the pub that have anyone who is praying for them? I was reminded too, by Regan’s story of the centrality of Christ himself in the role of mission, who would have thought that a struggling, middle class church of largely elderly people would mainly reach and disciple a young 20 something Zimbabwean? Yet, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, the impossible -or at least the highly unlikely- happens.

This reminded me of that wonderful verse “They overcame by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony”. The power of our story placed here by John the author of Revelation side by side with the blood of Christ.

 

Regan then shared about a wonderful older saint at his work, who came up to him once and offered him a Bible, which he declined (somewhat rudely!). Yet, I hope that this side of eternity, this lady will come across Regan doing what he does best telling people straight about Jesus. Maybe this lady felt like a failure at mission because she was given ‘short shrift’ by Regan, but he bravery and almost certainly her prayers echoed in eternity and have had an effect she could have only dreamt of.

My friend Kaja shared how she was so angry at her sister for having the disrespect and audacity to talk to her about her new-found faith, and yet several hours later Kaja herself said she was on her knees inviting Christ into her life.

Sometimes we don’t know the fruit that God brings to birth, often what feels like failure could be slower birthing fruit. Maybe when we step out in faith, we need to remember that “one plants, another waters’, but God makes it grow”, remembering too that “God’s word does not return to him void”.

Then as we wandered talking to people in the Kings Arms and Weatherspoon’s, Kaja and Wes met a couple of people ended up bumping into a Christian and sorting out some exciting stuff to do with the local foodbank in Fishponds -made me wonder when we intentional give God time and space he will uses our offering for his glory and sometimes divine and Kingdom advancing appointments.

It was good to chat to one another too, it made me think about how formal Church is and we rarely spend time with one another, ironic as one of the Churches I lead has its tag line “where strangers become friends and friends meet with Jesus” but perhaps we stay a little too much like strangers? I used to say “I don’t want to be a Church that is friendly, rather I want to be a Church where people can make friends in”.

I ended up chatting to my new friend John, a Catholic, and was so encouraging to hear what the Holy Spirit is doing in the Catholic Church, it makes me realise that although we come from different places, and do different things, that the Spirit of God is not confined by our differences and is bringing glory to Jesus through all those that seek him.

I had a brief chat with a guy I’d met at the foodbank, who came up to me and shook me by the hand and said that “although I’m not religious, I want to thank you for what you do”, which was a massive blessing, as I have recently felt really discouraged of late and this meant more than he could know (in fact I see it as a mini miracle as -sadly- this very, very rarely happens!).

On our way out of the pub, at the end of the evening, we ended up having a conversation with two guys about the Street Pastors project, Church, life, compassion although we never gave them a ‘full gospel message’ it again felt like this was again a Kingdom advance life blessing conversation.

So, why not join us, on a Wednesday, 7:45 for some worship and prayer, followed by a drink and being open to meet whoever we meet, giving the evening to God for his glory and see what happens, making new friends, going deeper with one another, perhaps conversation too which may change peoples’ eternal destinies?

God offering each of us the opportunity to partner with him, not hidden away in some Church, talking churchy stuff with already churchy people, often naval gazing. Let’s step out and meet him where he always has been in his world longing to meet his people who don’t yet know him.

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5 Fold Ministry -Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers (Eph. 5), Humility, identity, Isaiah 6, Pioneer, Pride

Words, Language and Titles…

A week ago I was at a really thought provoking meeting at the Diocese thinking about pioneer ministry.

Yet the thing that struck me  is the language, words, names and labels we use actually acts can be really unhelpful.

Gideon was called by the angel as a “Mighty Warrior” and didn’t see himself as Israels military leader after-all “I am the least in my family and my family is the least in Manasah”… Yet Gideon was a Mighty Warrior as he step out in faith (after a fair bit of encouragement from God) he stepped into the Identity that God had called him to, the gifts, skills and talents that lay within him, unseen and unrecognised.

Some of us at times can be a little like Gideon struggle with self doubt, and doubting of our calling, or other times we have our own ideas and expectations of ourselves. A type of false humility can easily exist and we can mistakenly think as virtuous but actually keeps us from becoming all that God wants us to be.

I wonder how many pioneers -or perhaps apostles, evangelists, teachers and prophets exist within our Church but would rule themselves out, or not be confident in embracing who they are before God?

I wonder too how many pioneers, -or perhaps apostles, evangelists, teachers and prophets exist within our Churches  but the Church communities sadly often don’t realised, acknowledged and embrace these gifts… (I think those with a pastoral gift most churches are reasonable at recognising, but often sadly many are less good at recognising the other characteristics).

Intestestingly both Isaiah (Is.6) and Jeremiah (Jer.1), both prophets who really needed Gods help to find their voice, Isaiah even has a vision of a cereph touching his lips with a burning coal… I wonder how many of us need Gods help to find our voice, especially our prophetic voice? Often the prophetic feels scary, we say things that other people don’t alwyas “get” or “understand”, sometimes to give a prophetic word takes a lot of courage of bravery.

Yet sometimes labels aren’t always helpful, one of my friends who was  evangelist, was told he was a good evangelist and for a few weeks went tactlessly crashing into conversations bible bashing in the most to-curling way imaginable, a million miles away from the normal  conversations he had been having. Sometimes Gods call on our lives can get limited when our egoes get over-inflated “pride coming before a fall”.

I don’t think these gifts, calling and ministries were meant to be given so that we can strut around like peacocks, and I’ve blogged before at how uncomfortable I am when perhaps there is too little walking deeply with the spirit and too much ego and testosterone flying around. The Growing Leaders Course sas “Charisma and Competence without Character creates Catastraphy”. A verse that don’t quote often enough but occurs repeatedly in scripture is “God opposes the proud but lifts up the humble”.

Humility I believe can be best be described as “coming into agreement with God about ourselves”, Paul’s epistle to the Church in Rome urges us “not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought” in fact Paul urges “to think of the needs of others”, God doesn’t give gifts to massage our egos but rather to build up the body of Christ.

To move in the call that God has placed on us we need to come to a place of maturity, not just letting God work through us, but more painfully and more challenging is letting God work through us. Often too, God gifts us but we have to get ourselves prepared to be used by God, we won’t be effective as a Bible teacher unless we delve deeply into Gods word, nor will we ever move in the prophetic unless we pray and become used to listening to Gods voice, and we never be trusted with leadership of Gods people unless we learn how to serve faithfully.

Too often I fear too many Chritians stay too much in the shallow end of their faith, nor are prepared to invest in the walk with Christ to really know what the potential God has placed within them, like the tragic  tale that Jesus told of the foolish man  who buried his talent in the ground. Potentially great evangelists  who never really talk about their faith, teachers who haven onthing to pass on, prophets who haven’t attuned their ear to the voice of God, apostolic leaders who’ve never learned that the first come last and a biblical model for leadership involves a towel and a bucket washing crap of the foot of disciples who may dessert you, and may betray you.

So, let’s think about how we can be the culture in the soil of discipleship whereby people can be empowered, grow and thrive in their faith, where the people of God are built up and Gods Kingdom grows and flourishes… Counting ourselves in to Gods plan and purpose for his plan in our lives in his world.

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Pioneer, Risk and Change

100 Pioneers…

Dave Male –a writer and researcher with the fresh expressions movement within the Church of England- was guest of Bristol Diocese last week who was at a meeting I went to last week, and he said: “I believe you could radically change this diocese with 100 pioneers”

This made my (rather small) mind spin off for a moment, firstly I thought about what pioneers are? They are people who see things as one writer put it “not as they are but as they could be”or another definition I liked is “people who see what needs doing and does it”. I was reminded of a saying “if you do what you always have, you’ll get what you have always had”, we need people who will do something different.

Then I thought about the greatest pioneer of all time and that is Christ, the original Church planter (of sorts!) and I think Acts 2 & 4 is the ultimate fresh expression! Then thinking of Christ’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, giving us his pioneering DNA.

I liked this thought of Christ at the heart of what it means to pioneer, the Holy Spirit constantly pioneering work in peoples lives to bring them both to relationship with Christ and maturity in him.

Not just humans with a good idea, nor Christians running off on their own whims and creativity but rather to “pioneer with Christ”.

Christ the ultimate pioneer, his ways often defy our conventional thinking and yet God promises that “his word does not return to him void, but accomplishes that for which it was intended”.

The aim of every Christian is to “see where God is at work and join in” but sometimes spotting where God is at work or opening a door require looking with the eyes of faith, is the call for the pioneer to see what other people don’t see.

This isn’t just dreaming dreams, I know so many people in churches who are full of great ideas, but you remain a dreamer unless you wake up and turn dreams into reality. Too often some the greatest dreams God has birthed in us, remain locked in heads and hearts rather birthed. I believe God is calling us not just to dream, but to birth dreams from heads into transformed communities.

Pioneers and entrepreneurs are very much the words of the business school when perhaps the rich mine of scripture and tradition would use the word “apostolic”, I did wonder if the word should have been “evangelist”, but actually it is about linking the opportunity with evangelists.

And the I thought about the number, on one level a hundred people seems an awful lot, especially when they are currently only three of us employed by the diocese, yet not every pioneer has to be a vicar -in fact in some cases being a vicar could a real disadvantage!-.

There are lots of pioneers who are doing radical things probably under the radar of many Churches.

There are many pioneers frustrated wearing ‘Sauls Armour’ straight jacketed into ‘normal church’ and dying inside whilst doing it.

There are too many pioneer that just haven’t been “discovered”, released or empowered to be themselves in the call and service of Christ.

We as Church in the west have become staid and sensible, yet the Church of the acts of the apostles was one of danger, risk and stepping out in faith.

Let’s learn to encourage people to be dangerous in their discipleship, be risk takers and and faith filled followers.

Faith that makes us gulp rather than yawn.

“Keep people dangerous” was a phrase I jotted down at the meeting, following Christ is meant to make us more wild rather than tame us down!

But then I thought maybe 100 people actually isn’t many, when you think of the size the city, and then I remembered a phrase from John Wesley who said something to the effect of “rather having five people sold out and on fire for Christ than five hundred apathetic spectators”.

I love the West Wing and one of my favourite quotes (actually comes from Margaret Mead) which says “never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world, because it is all that ever has”.

Often we think about mobilising hundreds, managing the crowds rather than mentoring individuals.

Again another great quote reminds us to “invest in the few for the sake of the many” –we find security in numbers, but yet I believe Jesus is calling us to step out out the boat, and now we are a picture of Gideon’s army, a small group of people who have the choice between living superficially and saying the right things, or stepping into the radical and dangerous discipleship.

A call I believe to raise up apostles, people who see and believe that “the fields of our nation our white to harvest” filled with potential that needs unlocking, seeing the need and stepping into the gap, not just talking a good game, not just dreaming vague possibilities, but going out where there is no path and finding and making a way through.

Maybe only a few, but let’s wake up our dreamers, let’s see the world –our world and our front-line- with the eyes of Christ and partner with the Holy Spirit, God the pioneer calling us to step into the unknown future with the known God.

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