Church, inter-dependance, Leadership, Unity

Team God

In the world of football, Bill Shankly -former Liverpool Manager-, used to win the league and each year, each year he would bring a in new people and retire successful ones, seems like crazy strategy yet his justification was “if I don’t do this we won’t win the league”.

Investing in people results in investing in the future.

Alex Ferguson’s genius was he was able to spot and nurture young talent and people of potential and bring them into the team. Without his eye for young talent the world might not have come to hear of David Beckham.

This should be a great picture of the Churches Ministry, continually investing in the next generation coming up, taking risks on young people and giving them opportunities in the squad and on the pitch.

Too often our human natures settle for what we have, rather than what we could have. We forget that so often when we stop pushing forward we end up drifting into reverse.

Leicester City, won league, but this was a bit of a blip as they now face relegation.

Although it is true they have lost a key player in their team.

I remember in the late 90’s when millions of pounds of expensive players were put in the Chelsea squad but although they had great and expensive players it took a while before they became a great team.

A team is not just a collection of gifted individuals, but rather the contribution of everyone produces something greater than just the individual components.

Some research was done into relay races, rarely is it the fastest group of individuals who win the race, but rather it is how well they manage the transition of the baton that causes them to win or to lose.

Church is God’s team for the world.

You and I are the Church, how do we work together to bring the best out of each other for the good and glory of Christ’s Kingdom being made manifest in his world.

Sadly, too often the Church in the west often we behave like a random collection of individuals, all doing our own thing, oblivious to each other. Often when a key person moves on, they Church really struggles, and things begin to grind to a halt.

I wonder with Church do we hang on too tightly to people and not let them move on from us to the next thing we have in store, although often we feel brutally pruned, for them and the Kingdom it could be the right move? Causing those in their shadow to emerge and flourish.

I wonder too as Church do we let people who have gifts that aren’t fully developed to can bud and to flourish, often these will only grow when due to God’s pruning they feel needed.

Do we work as a team to grow people in their gifts and enable them to flourish and thrive?

I have been struck with our Street Pastors teams that often people have been worried about talking about their faith on the streets and yet have seen as they have been part of a team, they have grown in confidence and flourished, some now who were nervous at the beginning are now leading the teams and encouraging other new recruits to ‘find their voice; in mission and evangelism.

As Church leaders, we want solid and constant growth and advance, but growth and life ebbs and flows often is season, sometimes we feel reduced, struggling and uncomfortable, which precipitates growth and Kingdom advance.

As I think of the whole pruning image, is a helpful image, as although short term the tree will keep going, eventually it becomes overgrown and unable to produce the fruit the tree is capable of.

As I read that uncomfortable passage in John’s Gospel, which talks of the branches which do not produce fruit being cut off, and those which do produce fruit are pruned. Pruning is inescapable.

The Gooseberry bush thrives best when literally its ‘heart’ is cut out, pruned back in such a way it looks as though it looks like it is fatal -and sometimes that is how it feels- but in doing so the bush buds again with a bumper crop.

This is a wonderful organic image, that is not about ‘keeping the show on the road’ but rather about investing in the future, a step of faith constantly leaving our comfort zones to invest in the (yet unseen) future.

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1 Peter 3.15., Mission, Unity

Scrubbers for Jesus…

Today I have been at the Fellowship of Parish Evangelists, my first time here.

This morning we had a guy, Richard Scott who said things I have blogged about many times before that we need to not just ‘do evangelism’ but release, encourage, inspire and equip every Christian to “tell their story”, “to be good news”, “live out their faith”, “do the work of an evangelist” to “always be prepared to give an account for the hope that we have, but do so with gentleness and respect”.

The word he brought to us was “SCRUB” Strategic Collaboration Reaching Unreached Britain… I smirked as I thought of the title for this blog “Scrubbers for Jesus!”

It made me think too about the joke J.John tells, when he became a Christian his mum was worried he’d been brain washed to which he replied “Mum, if you knew what was in my brain, you’d think it needed a wash!”

So what is he saying.

Strategy:

To often we’ve tried to be great evangelists rather than motivate the whole people of God in evangelism.

Yet this isn’t news, in 1944 the report “Towards the conversion of England” said “unless every Christian shares their faith the Church will die”.

In fact a recent report “Talking Jesus” from the Evangelical Alliance say that only about 1% of the population can be reached by “professionals” which does leave the other 99% up to the rest of the Church! The best use of clergy time is not running around trying to push the figure to 2% but rather, to help, encourage and equip our Churches members in sharing their faith with their friends.

That is a better strategy, let’s help one another become match fit, able to speak in a normal way about our faith “with gentleness and respect” but in a way that works that’s real and authentic with people. J.John again says “there are two reasons why people don’t become Christians 1) they don’t know any Christians and 2) they know a Christian”.

Interestingly they reckon that approximately about 1 in 5 people are interested in finding out more about Jesus, so real potential opportunities here, more over the research shows that about 3/4 of people who aren’t Christians know a practicing Christian, however when asked about a conversation with a Christian about faith 30% said “it hadn’t gone well”. Sadly not a surprise, as I think most Christians feel ill equipped to share their faith with their family, friends, colleagues and neighbours.

I was talking with a lovely older Vicar -who now leads a Church in France- and says that he and his wife joined a choir, made friends, and invites people over for nice meals with wine and just chats with people, eventually there is often a normal and natural opportunity where people end up chatting about faith.

Another lady just bakes some cakes and invites her neighbours to pop in if they’d like for an ‘open house’ and gets to know people and this has led to some wonderful real conversations.

I wonder if perhaps we make it all too complicated? We try these courses, and invest in clever sermons and great gimmicks, and really the spirit of God is calling us to love people, spend time with them, be real and share our lives, and be patient but expectant for a natural opportunity to talk about faith to come up in a way that’s not contrived or freaky but loving, real, natural and unforced.

Perhaps the strategy is to be less strategic and more relational, loving people and giving them your time, space, your listening ear and waiting until God opens a door for his message?

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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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Acts of Service, Bravery, Church, community of grace, Compassion, Discipleship, Giving/Generousity., Holiness, Kingdom, Ministry, Mission, prayer, self awareness, Unity, Worship

A Dream for the local Church…

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…

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Badges, Denominations, Divisions, Labels, Unity

Church without badges and Christians without labels.

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

 

-Okay it’s a joke, but it does capture something in the mentality of the human condition that does think those people who don’t agree with us entirely are bad!

I also remember reading somewhere someone saying “if your God hates the same people you hate, then you’ve created God in YOUR image”.

The truth is the opposite, in Christ the normal things that divide and separate us from one another are overcome by the greater unity which we share by being followers of Christ Jesus. “For in Christ there is no more slave or free, Jew or Gentile, Male or Female, because all are one in Christ Jesus”.

 

We use labels to define who we are, and who we aren’t.

Yet our identity is not actually defined in the labels of style, theology, denomination or even which translation of the Bible you use… but rather who we are in Christ. Christ is the beginning and end of our identity as individuals, I am a beloved child of God, I have been freed from the slavery of sin by the precious blood of Christ, I am filled with the Holy Spirit of the living God… That is who we are.
End of.
Full stop.
You might be saying, “ah yes, that’s okay for individuals but we need something more defining when we are together?” -I’m not sure we do actually, forgiven sinners saved by grace is enough to for me, everything else we can work out in love and grace and honest inquiry.
True all of us as groups together will have our quirks, hobby horses and doctrine issues, and yes these surface from time to time, but let’s lay these disagreements before Christs cross knowing that he defines us.
As a passionate labour supporter, I am dismayed at the way the Labour Party is tearing itself apart over their internal differences when child poverty rises,  living standards are decreasing and homelessness increases… We need a Labour government I think everytime someone comes into the Foodbank, yet we aren’t likely to get one whilst they fight amongst themselves rather that fight for the causes they were founded to fight for. Whatever your political persuasion the picture is true, as the writer of proverbs puts it so neatly “a house divided against itself cannot stand”.
The murdered MP Jo Cox said “What unites us is greater than what divides us” although shes talking about communities, her words still resonate with those of us who have pledged ourselves to following Christ.
We don’t agree totally with one another, there is a dying world out there needing it’s saviour, needing good news, needing the gospel, needing hope, Grace and lots of love.
In fact jesus doesn’t say that by our uniformity all people will know that you are my disciples but rather “by this will all prople know you are my disciples that you love knew another”.
The Christian Community is massively diverse, but yet within diversity there is also unity based  not on us, but on who Christ is and what he has done.
If we find this a struggle to believe look no further than Jesus’ own 12 disciples which included a zealot (Simon) and a tax collector (Matthew), he also included Simon who kept on getting the wrong end of the wrong stick, and James and John who were called sons of thunder because of their argumentative nature… Yet Jesus got these guys to be his disciples and to launch his Church.
So lets loose all labels except those given to us by Christ (beloved, free, forgiven, filled etc) both for us individually and also when we come together, and let us not be people who pin labels on other Christians or Churches, but rather accept the great challenge to learn to see the face of Christ in the other.
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Church, Exodus 17., prayer, Unity

Holding Up the Arms of Moses…

Ex.17.

The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”
10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

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It is a great picture of Moses praying with his arms raised, and whilst he is praying the army is being victorious in battle, but when he tires and lets his arms down everything changes, the Israelites begin to loose the battle and everything begins to deflate and unravel.

I think my first point is that we need to first realize we are actually in a battle, this is a real fight with a real enemy… too often we don’t realize that we are in a battle, we are surprised when we stick our necks out for Jesus and get persecuted (even sometimes sadly from those who we thought were meant to be on our own side).

The other point to realize that prayer is not an optional extra, a bit of a garnish like a sprig of parsley, to our normal every day lives (nor a bit like a hobby), it effects everything, including whether spiritual victories are won or lost (I know before someone says it that the war was won with Christ on the cross) but there are many victories which I believe the church tragically offers Satan and the enemy armies on a plate simply because we aren’t praying!

I know what it is like to be like Moses, praying away with good intentions, but I know that I can tire and the good intentions get harder work and become more costly and sacrificial it is easy to simply stop praying, or praying less, or less passionately, or with less belief that God is going to show up.

The truth is we need each other to keep us sharp, to encourage us, to challenge us, to stand alongside us, to hold us up when we are struggling, this is a challenge in our massively individualistic culture, yet God wants his Church to be a community, living corporately… praying together and standing alongside each other. Proverbs reminds us that just as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another, Hebrews 10 urges us to ‘spur one another on’…

When we do street pastors, we always have a few people, praying for us back at base, and as all the rest of the Street Pastors team will testify, it makes such a difference when we are out on the streets knowing that there are people back at base praying for us.

I’d challenge us to get back up and start to intercede afresh like Moses did, and watch and not be surprised that our prayers change and transform the course of the battle, to keep praying even when it is hard, painful and tough and sacrificial (perhaps even ‘especially when it is hard, painful and tough and sacrificial’), to get other people to stand alongside you in those critical battle moments like Aaron and Hur… Also, I’d challenge us to be like Aaron and Hur to look out for those prayer warriors who are flagging; those brothers and sisters who are struggling to pray for themselves; the discouraged and despairing and stand alongside them holding their arms up for them…

What are we like?

I see things like this blog as like Aaron and Hur, that is coming alongside the Churches in this nation, where many have like Moses flagged a little, and we are challenged to stand alongside our tired family members holding up their sore limbs and support them with both our love, prayers and commitment to them, Christ and his battle.

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