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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Mission, Mission Shaped Church, Pioneer, Pioneers, Post-modern-culture

A Lonely Breakfast.

Yesterday started the day with a lonely breakfast.

For a while I have been really keen to gather a Bristol based “learning community” for all of us engaged in Fresh Expressions, Church Planting and all things Pioneering.

I’ll be honest as a Pioneer Minister most people don’t get it most of the time, and it is draining.

I sometimes feel so isolated.

Today no one came.

Just me (and the dog!)

There are a few people I have met on the journey that seem on the same page, but we are all so busy, and meeting up, praying, chatting, sharing seems like a luxury -I’ve missed these kind of meetings too because the diary didn’t allow it.

I wondered for a second whether I was trying to call a meeting for me, for my desire for a community that gets it, or to serve other people. As I sipped my coffee trying to not look like a bloke that has been stood up on a date, I thought perhaps it is both, perhaps I am wondering ‘does anyone else out here feel like this? If so, let’s meet, share and pray.

I thought too about learning communities as a whole, I have been part of a reasonably successful one looking at missional opportunities on new housing developments, where we share and pray, but also go a bit deeper in wrestling these issues together, sharing our experience and having insights from other people that (hopefully) understand what and why we are doing what we are doing.

Truly at their best this type of fellowship is “iron sharpening iron as one person sharpens another”.

I smirked as I thought of chapter meetings (here in Bristol they have mainly been reasonably good) but I have been in some where they are “bitch and brag sessions and not altogether helpful. Yet, I also thought how often do we discuss the stuff that really matters, like what are we doing to see real people coming to know Jesus? Are we really making Disciples that look like Jesus and doing what he did for the same reason he did it? -If not, why not? what is stopping us?

I don’t get why people aren’t passionate about Fresh Expressions of Church? It is actively seeking to partner with God is seeing where he is leading and joining in and seeing lives changed and the Kingdom of God coming in more fully. Yet we seem to put all our efforts in keeping the ship afloat (much of it probably should have been jettisoned a couple of decades ago).

I still believe that God is in Fresh Expressions, and he is calling his Church to get ready and be prepared for what he is doing, and about to do.

So, despite being on my own, I will still argue that God is “doing a new thing”, that Fresh Expressions are vital to the mission and ministry of the Church, and statistically probably the most fruitful ways of engaging with the unchurched and the dechurched.

As I ate my breakfast I prayed for this city, I prayed for the many people I have come to know here in Kingswood, I prayed for our Churches, those that are open to change and those resistant too it. I prayed for burned out and misunderstood Vicars and ministers -pioneers who maybe don’t even know that they are pioneers. I prayed that God would show us all his plan for the future of his Church and that we would be bold enough to grasp it and be obedient. So, as I ate my brekky, praying, thinking, drinking coffee I realised it wasn’t a lonely breakfast but one shared with the King of Kings.effective in reaching those that don’t yet know Christ.

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consumerism, Enculturation, incarnation, Post-modern-culture

Enculturation or Incarnation?

On Thursday we had our Mission Shaped Intro Course, and we had a debate “Is Consumerism a Friend or a Foe to the Church?”

In many ways it is obviously to say there are flaws in this culture, materialism is not something that sits comfortably with the God who had “no where to lay his head”.

Yet consumerism has at its heart people searching for something, there is a restlessness within the culture, knowing that they are not complete and happy as they are. I know my need of something that try satisfies is the ‘holy grail’ of this culture, which I think gives the Church an amazing opportunity to give people “the bread that truly satisfies” or “the living water when we never have to thirst again”…

Jesus’ conversation with the woman at Jacobs well resonates powerfully with 21st century culture wanting something more, and something real and something that satisfies.

Perhaps being part of a consumerist culture that promises so much but delivers so little has caused wide dissatisfaction, and a desire for something different and real, perhaps this is why we have seen the rise of things like the occupy movement in London, or Bernie Saunders narrowly missing out on being a Presidential candidate, and saw Jeremy Corbyn elected (and re-elected). The message of the Rich Fool -who built bigger and bigger barns only to die- begs us to ask “what does it profit a person to gain the whole world but loose your soul?”, instead I believe there is a real sense of people wanting to do something positive to make a difference, to make our lives count, the Bible talks of “building with Gold, Silver and Costly Stones not with hay, wood or straw which is burned up and does not last”, I think our culture knows that too much we do is fleeting and transitory and not permeant, lasting or significant.

Yet consumerism can be something of an enemy of the Church, I want everything done my way, “I want the things I like… give me great coffee and comfortable seats”, “I want old hymns that I remember from school” and I want a sermon not too long and not too challenging (and certainly not challenging my lifestyle too much!). You give me what I want and if I don’t like it I will go to a Church that does”.

The problem we become so used to being a consumer that we consume Church and spit out discipleship.

Church has become massively consumerist, just see how many books, music, conferences and silly tat like rulers and pencils etc get consumed by Churches, the Christian market is a multi million dollar industry. Ironic as its founder was so poor he had to do a miracle with a fish to pay his tax on one occasion.

The problem often with us and consumerism we have become some enculturated with it that we barely notice it. I remember hearing a guy attacking consumerism at a Christian festival with a brand-name hoodie on, with lights, smoke and a funky band, and I wondered whether we have a bit of a blind spot in this area. The same could be said for a Church where the Vicar is wearing expensive vestments and costly challis speaking in middle of the talk about living a life of poverty.

As I thought more of consumerist enculturation I thought this is the opposite of being incarnational.

We are called to be Christ-like where-ever we go, and to impact where-ever we go for Christ; yet I wonder if the reverse happens we become enculturated in consumerism and end up spreading this where-ever we go. I want to spread Kingdom DNA, to stand out in my culture, not to blend in, not to sell out or morph into the same as the world around us, consuming the Church.

Instead, Church of Christ arise, and know that what we have is a mirror to consumerism, “and the things of this world grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace”.

 

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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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