Monday, 29 September 2008

10 Blogging Commandments...

The Evangelical Alliance have published their "Ten Blogging Commandments" which came out of the recent "Godblogs event in London.

The Times have picked up the story here and commented here

Some people aren't impressed, such as Dave Warnock with some interesting criticisms while some who were at the event are a bit confused as to what was published.

Personally - I can see how this started out as a good idea but I am unsure the Times article is actually good PR. It feels a little bit too much like airing our dirty laundry in public without actually adding much to help.

I am relatively new to blogging. I have been a moderator of a football messageboard for 5 or 6 years now, which has over 500,000 posts on 47,000 topics in 4 years, but only recently entered the blogging world having been interested by the blogs of both my brother Jon and Phil Whittall.

Here are a few of my personal observations, and if I am honest, disappointments:

1) I have been surprised at the strength of criticism on some blogs. It seems very odd, that less hurtful things are said by rival football fans trying to be offensive, than fellow Christians trying to represent a different viewpoint. In fact, it appears that some blogs / bloggers only exist for the purpose of running down other people / ministries / theological positions etc.

2) "Christian bloggers" seem to have a subculture of their own, and within that culture there are very definite groups or further subcultures so it is far too easy for new people to be dismissed. I deliberately look at blogs that differ from my own position on subjects to be stirred on the issues and engage with thinking that is different to my own. Some blogs appear to be , or are moderated to look like exercises in backslapping by a particular clique and anyone outside of that sphere gets run down too quickly.

3) It appears that many bloggers don't want to discuss things, they just want to prove their own rightness. A fantastic example of a blog that does not fall into this trap is complegalitarian which really has become a place for genuinely effective discussion.

4) "Unity" is used as both a bomb shelter to hide in once a fight has been started and also a tool to prevent further discussion. To some it is a trump card to play once you have had your ounce of flesh. You can say whatever you want then hide behind "unity" - but only after breeding disunity through false accusation or deliberate misinterpretation of someone else's viewpoint. It appears that people want you to respect their right to believe what they do and therefore uphold unity, while withholding the right to say whatever they want about your position without any negative reaction, which would of course, be you bringing disunity... So "unity" becomes a means of bullying rather than the foundation of a conversation, which is no unity at all.

5) Blogs don't really allow for personality in the same way that speech does. People say things in a way or with a strength way beyond what they would say to someone's face. People know me as a pretty easy going, humorous, fairly sensitive chap. At uni my nickname was "Jolly Dave". I wonder if that has made it across into cyberspace.

This is a humorous take on the ten commandments that brings a bit of joy back into the conversation.

On a more personal level, these are the basic presumptions I want to move forward with:

1) Hear the person - not their background, denomination, church background etc.

2) Not to use inflammatory language. It just does not help whatsoever.

3) Guilt by association is not guilt at all.

4) Don't question their motivations - even the person who is the most wrong on a subject needs to be engaged with as a fellow believer trying to get it right. I hold that because one day I may find myself as the most wrong - even though I know I am trying to get it right.

5) Don't write off 99% of what someone stands for on the basis of the 1% you disagree with. Most of us have more in common with each other than we think, and even where we disagree, we can still learn how it works for someone who holds that view.

Forgive the fact there are only 5. I may add more, but that will do for now. More to the point, forgive the times I stray from my own list.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Piaggio Zip 50 - God Provides!

For two years since getting married Esther has had priority with our car for her work as a support worker with social services.

That was fine when she worked just around the corner from here, although it was hard for me to lose my main transport during the day.

Then Esther's work moved to the other side of town and I was relying on lifts from people from church to get to work and then a different couple taking me home. That was so kind but it meant I lost even more flexibility for timings as well as being hassle for Esther having to trek across town every time my lift didn't work out.

So I decided to take a big step - I couldn't really justify a second car on the basis of both cost and the environment etc. That meant a scooter! A moped. A chicken chaser. You know, the ones that sound like a lawnmower on speed and represent the highest desire of a 16 year old male and no-one else in society!

Yep - that is it. I had little experience of motorbikes except 3 weeks clinging to the back of my friend Ankush on the back of his 500cc Enfield while spending time in Bangalore.

I don't need a different license as my car license is old enough to allow me to ride up to 50cc without L plates, but I did my CBT anyway for a bit of experience. The day I chose was in May, it hailed and one of my indicators didn't work. I was a bit depressed riding around on a clapped out old Honda in the hail having to make hand signals at every roundabout, but I survived.

So I decided to start to save up to purchase a scooter, and was looking for something cheap and cheerful, like a Kymco Agility or Piaggio Zip.

Then came our Church gift day towards paying off the mortgage on our premises to free up money which could then go on future staff wages. Esther challenged me one morning "I hate the way when we think about giving we always give out of what we have. I want us to do something really radical."

That was a spiritual "right hook" that took a few days to digest fully. Then it dawned on me, a seed of faith was planted.

"Babe, you know you said you didn't want to just do something ordinary for this gift day but wanted to do something radical? Well - I will cut a deal with you. I will give the money we have saved for my scooter, if you give the money we have saved for our holiday"

The look on Esther's face is difficult to describe, it was as though her spirit leapt inside her and a massive smile broke out. "Would you be willing to do that? Yes - that is exactly what I wanted. Something that actually matters."

So that is what we did - the week before the gift day I emptied our savings account, kissed goodbye to my scooter and gave it to the Church.

Two weeks later and the Gift Day total was announced - £87,320 was given on the day, of which 10% was given to the newfrontiers offering this year, so less 8,732. But then we could reclaim Gift Aid, and further money came in beyond the day itself, with the total figure now standing at £119,586, less the offering money leaving £110,852 towards our total target of £94,000.

God is so good!

What is more, Esther & I felt a very real sense of being part of that provision. We had not given that much money at all really, but we had given up something we both wanted. No-one knew we had done this. I don't share it now for any reason other than what happened next.

I heard the total for the gift day one morning. That afternoon a Christian friend said to me "Dave, we know you have being saving up for a scooter, and we want to give you X amount of money towards buying one." The amount? Precisely what we had given to the gift day - nearly double what I had given up as savings towards my scooter.

The provision was God's and was there all along. But how much more it meant knowing we had entered into the process with Him cheerfully!

In our local newspaper a second hand Zip came up with just 1500 miles on the clock and one older, careful previous owner.

So on Monday I picked up my scooter, a Piaggio Zip 50, and am now zipping around the streets of Shrewsbury knowing everytime I see that bike, Jehovah Jireh, God provides. It is not just a cheap and cheerful mode of transport anymore - it is a sign of God's goodness to me.

Ah you say - but what about the holiday? Well some friends offered us a week in a cottage in Worcestershire. It had been booked up all summer but was free the week we were booked to go on holiday. God had it all covered, we just had to step into His purposes to find it.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Jesus is my friend!

Big thanks for Ferg for drawing my attention to this.

I am thinking to doing my five favourite worship songs in a similar way to my five favourite sermons.

In the meantime, here is a little something to use as a "marker". If you get past 90 seconds without being utterly desperate to stop it then you will have done well.

In my post "Reformation confusion" I suggested I didn't appreciate "Jesus, my girlfriend" types of songs. This is a case in point.

Restoration Confusion

NB: I have updated this article due to some confusion about my intended meaning.

I read an article recently which talked about the good old days of evangelical churches but was openly hostile to "new" church movements.

It listed these as being "lost" amongst newer churches.

Priority of preaching the gospel of individual salvation at every opportunity
Absolute insistence on a born-again experience for salvation
Love of, and knowledge of, God's Word
Desire for doctrinal purity
Abhorrence of liberal creeds and intimate knowledge of the errors of Rome
Spiritual unity of the Saints without compromise of doctrine.
Daily walk governed by scriptural principles.
Recognition of the condition of backsliders, correction in the Church
Infilling of the Spirit linked to sanctification, not gifts or manifestations
Traditional, scriptural worship without excesses
Pre-millennial eschatology, with expectation of apostasy before the Lord's Return.
Heavenly goal; rewards sought in heaven rather than on earth.

This is a narrow view of evangelicalism in the UK in the 1950s and does not represent a good definition of where evangelicalism in the UK is at the present time.

The accusation was that new churches like ours were lacking in the above, with newfrontiers given as one example. I would counter that by saying what we may lack we don't miss, and some of the things we are accused of lacking we are actually strong in.

Priority of preaching the gospel of individual salvation at every opportunity

Yes definitely - the blood of Jesus shed for us on the cross. That's the message. Repentance and faith leads to forgiveness and new birth. "Every" opportunity is difficult to judge. I think there were times when opportunities aren't actually opportunities at all. I don't like the "Come to a pancake party with a short talk about Jesus" kind of evangelism. But once we are actually talking about faith, then it is Jesus, our sin, the cross and his sacrifice that bring sus forgiveness.

Absolute insistence on a born-again experience for salvation

Yes, and this is publicly declared before baptism and before membership.

Love of, and knowledge of, God's Word

Yes - preaching through books, bible training courses, personal discipleship through the bible

Desire for doctrinal purity

Yes - even when it is unpopular. People may disagree with newfrontiers on any manner of subjects but we rarely get accused of being wishy washy. Even when we are wrong we are trying to get it right.

Abhorrence of liberal creeds and intimate knowledge of the errors of Rome

Not so sure about "intimate" knowledge - but definitely clarity about our own distinctives.

Spiritual unity of the Saints without compromise of doctrine.

Our Church is not a full member of the local Churches Together, for this point. But we are fully involved in the Hope 08 initiative, which has different goals, even though it contains many of the same churches from a huge swathe of backgrounds and denominations, but only relates to trinitarian churches which is where we have drawn the line.

Daily walk governed by scriptural principles.

Yes - and no. "Spiritual" experience of any sort, will do anything aside from scriptural principles. Marriage, relationships, workplace, business, money, parenting, prayer, giving, worship, it is all based on scripture.

Recognition of the condition of backsliders, correction in the Church

Yes - Church membership, clarity on certain lifestyle choices

Infilling of the Spirit linked to sanctification, not gifts or manifestations

Sanctification is the product, or should be the product, of anything claimed to be a work of the spirit.

Traditional, scriptural worship without excesses

What does "traditional" mean? "Scriptural without excesses" hits the nail on the head for me. Stuart Townend is a great modern hymn writer. I mean hymns, not songs. Old style hymns, but modern. In Christ Alone, How deep the Father's love etc.

It is never about a music "style", but it is about the message being clear. I prefer a modern style but I don't like songs about "Jesus, my girlfriend" and do like a bit of meat in the words, like "Happy Day" or "Beautiful One".

Pre-millennial eschatology, with expectation of apostasy before the Lord's Return.

Interesting one, and a much wider spectrum of belief. On the whole we're a bit different from many in newfrontiers and probably come down a pre millenial route if any, but that's not a core teaching.

Heavenly goal; rewards sought in heaven rather than on earth.

Yes definitely - no hint of prosperity teaching or "life coaching to success" sort of stuff.

So I guess the "good old days" are still alive in many aspects of the original definition. I don't think we have thrown the baby out with the bath water as the writer seems to suggest, but rather have widened the scope of the definition, as have many other evangelical churches.

To have widened the definition is not to have thrown away scripture, the gospel, evangelism etc. Charismatic gifts should not reduce the view of the role of scripture. Social Activism should not reduce the role of proclamation of the gospel. Modern music styles should not allow for "excesses" in worship etc etc.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Goals, goals, goals...

Last Saturday, I went to watch Shrewsbury Town play Gillingham.

The game finished a whopping 7-0 to Shrewsbury.

Yesterday I went to watch Manchester City play Portsmouth.

The game finished a whopping 6-0 to Manchester City.

Two games, two thrashings, 13 goals in 8 days.

How is your team doing? Are they struggling for goals? If so, my services as a "Freescoring talisman" can be hired for the price of a free ticket, a pie and a bus fare home.

Or is there a team you dislike and want to scupper their chances? In which case send me to the home end of their next opponents and I will sort out a good thrashing for them.

I cannot quite believe it. I had a week's holiday in between, and need another week now just to recover from the shock of yesterday!

Robinho, Wright Philips and Jo as a front three - that is something like £60 million spent on just 3 footballers this summer.

It is a bit like setting up a conference with Driscoll, Hybels and Keller headlining it. Portsmouth didn't have a chance.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Dear Blue Peter...

A friend emailed me the other day, asking if my middle initial was "E".

It is.

In the Sunday Express this week there was an article about a recently published booked called "Dear Blue Peter" about all the letters and pictures sent to Blue Peter over the years.

One morning, aged about 5 and off school ill, I had written to Blue Peter. I expressed sadness Jack the cat had died and asked for a new cat. They shortly brought in Willow as a replacement. I then did a picture of George the Tortoise waking up from his long hibernation.

A few weeks later my friend Ben called to tell me my letter had been read out on Blue Peter. I had missed it! I was gutted! I did get a Blue Peter badge though - a great source of pride for a child of the eighties.

So on we roll, I missed it, I never saw it, and I rarely think of it except in icebreakers when people want to know something interesting about me.

But then, on Sunday, the bottom corner of the page, David E Matthias, with his picture of George the tortoise in the Sunday Express! I assume that the photo is actually in the book itself, so will be buying a copy.

In the mean time, I looked up the book, and found my picture is even on the BBC website here!

So there you go, I sent that picture in 23 years ago and thought I had missed the five minutes of fame it had brought me, but it looks like it will be preserved forever in a new book.

I wonder if there is any way of finding that episode of Blue Peter?

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Should we plant new Churches?

A good question, and one my brother and I are having a good discussion about presently, as you may see on various posts on his blog.

I will attempt to keep this succinct, although it will be lengthy. Forgive my over simplifications and generalisations. This is opinion, subject to change, and liable to require amendment.

I see both sides of this discussion.

On the one hand, "Church planting" seems to be all the rage and it feels that everywhere you look someone somewhere is planting a Church, and in some places many different people are trying to plant different Churches.

On the other hand, the largest move of God in the UK right now, in my opinion, is the renewal and growth of some of the established denominations, most notably the evangelical wing of the Anglican church. It certainly is in Shrewsbury. Movements like Soul Survivor, Alpha, Hope 08 and New Wine have had a massive effect on the body of Christ in the UK and spawned myriads of missional activity. More so, I believe, than any Church planting has. But I would hope that Church planters have increased the overall mission of the Church in our nation.

So should we plant new Churches?

I think the first question is "Why would we want to" - what is our motivation.

These motivations do exist, and sometimes great Churches have been built from situations like this, but at the same time I don't think that they provide a strong foundation or mandate for Church planting.
  • Because church planting is the new and funky thing to do and if you are not church planting then you are evidently "static" in your faith
  • Because we want to lead a church, and frankly, no existing Church will employ us
  • Because we have left another Church and have nowhere else to go, so we start our own
  • Because an existing Church has split
  • Because a Church movement or denomination wants a "presence" in a particular city
  • Because we are a particular denominational "type" of Christian and want to go to a particular "type" of Church near us
  • Because existing churches suck
  • Because existing Churches are under the "Jezebel spirit" or some other weird spiritual warfare sounding piffle
  • Because our type of Church is genuinely the only "Hope of the world" because in its model it carries the mantle of Christ himself for His glory in the nations (sarcasm intended)
Below are reasons, which are utterly fallible and are still subject to human frailties and relational issues but I do believe give a good mandate to plant a Church, or many Churches.
  • You are sold on the scriptural concept of "go, evangelise, disciple, appoint leaders, and go again" which resulted in new congregations springing up
  • You have a heart for mission to a particular area and believe that a Church there is the best way of reaching that area
  • God tells you to, which can be individually, such as the video here, or together like here under "dare to believe"
  • You have a heart for a particular demographic, cultural or racial group and believe an expression of Church geared to reaching them will be more effective in its witness
  • You believe in the universal Church, the body of Christ and believe that a new expression of the faith can help support the mission of the overall body of Christ in a particular area by expressing something new or in a different way
  • You see a scriptural basis for Church life that you want to live out in practice - either in practice or mission, believer's baptism, spiritual gifts etc and find that a fresh Church environment is where you can do this. Church planting, or new Churches have almost always sprung up from new moves of either theological understanding (anabaptists), spiritual experience (Pentecostals, Vineyard) or mission (Salvation army). It has often been the fresh expressions of Christianity who help to bring renewal to the mainstream denominations, such as Vineyard worship has in the last 25 years. These new expressions of Church life tend to require a new model of Church in which to develop.
The thing about these reasons - is that they don't always need a new Church to do it, an existing Church can often do the same. Often renewal or missional movements seek to renew and equip the Church as it is, like Alpha or Cell UK. Others plant Churches as God speaks to people about starting new Churches and new Churches reach new people, on new estates, or the same people in a new way.

God appears to call some to the renewal of current denominations and others to plant new Churches. It is the same process, for the same purpose - being faithful for mission.

So the question goes back to the objections to starting new Churches. I will add my thoughts.

1) "But we already have enough Churches"

I just don't agree with this. Is every person in the UK regularly touched by effective mission? No. Until that is the case there is room for more Churches whose primary calling is mission. Not creating an ever increasing choice for believers, but ever increasing mission to unbelievers.

There are estates on one side of Shrewsbury representing something like 15,000 people for whom there is very little local Church witness. We have lots of Churches in the town - but who is reaching those people? Surely a Church based there seeking active mission there is part of the answer, as it was in North Shrewsbury? The principle can be replicated to every town, such as this church planted 12 years ago in Cambridge. Until we are reaching everyone there is room for more Churches, if we see their role as mission not gathering Christians.

2) "But it creates inefficiency as running a new church takes extra resources"

Duplicity is a potential problem anywhere. Yet the inefficiency is with any organisation existing without fulfilling its primary mission. And in a nation where we are so far from everyone being regularly touched by the mission of the Church then duplicity is a bit of a red herring. The same argument says we should only have one overseas aid agency, one fair trade company, one missions agency etc. In fact the duplicity of existing denominations should be ironed out too. Why do we run a Baptist Church and an Anglican Church in the same village? Why don't we all just join back with Rome? I think each Church needs to analyse itself and ask is it making the best use of its resources, whether it is new or not, and is it being faithful to the word of God as it understands it and following His call.

I do believe anyone wanting to plant a new Church anywhere should go and find the places where there are not many other Churches and aim there.

3) "But it is easier to plant Churches in the UK, if you really wanted to reach people why not go overseas?"

This criticism has got some mileage, but then Peter went to the Jews. Paul preached in the synagogues first. If we share a culture and language with people then we are in a priviledged position to engage in mission with them, with political freedom to do so. But we go back to the millions of unreached people in the UK - and wanting effective mission to them - a community of believers serving them and witnessing to Christ to them. If we should go overseas to plant Churches to reach people, then we should also go to the neighbouring town and plant Churches to reach people.

4) "but setting up your own Church implies others Churches are not good enough"

...and not being welcoming to other believers wanting to reach the lost near you could suggest that you a) have a monopoly on the area because you were there first and b) are reaching everyone so you c) don't need any help and that they should join you instead because d) you are right and sufficient for the gospel where you are.

It works both ways.

I think lots of different Christians have different emphasis and gifts and this is the case within the wider body of Christ and we are actually stronger for it when we look for the positives in each other.

Every "new" movement - the methodists, the baptists, the pentecostals, the charismatics, have planted Churches across this nation and brought increase to the Christian witness, and even sometimes brought something close to revival with them, sometimes locally, sometimes nationally.

We actually need each other. UK evangelicalism would have been shipwrecked without the scholarship of the Anglicans, period. Worship would be very different without the Vineyard. Spiritual gifts would not be as accepted without the pentecostals. Now newer postmodern movements or movements from the charismatic renewal are trying new ways of doing Church, other missional movements are focussing on building missional Churches, and right across this great patchwork quilt of creative vitality that is the body of Christ more people are being reached with the gospel.

I was speaking to a methodist recently who said his Church had considered the area of town I mentioned earlier with a view to starting a Church there to reach those people. A local Anglican Church has planted two new congregations into different estates near them. Fantastic!

5) New Churches don't offer anything different

Some do. Some don't. All should. Reaching new people with the good news of Jesus is something different. Serving new people in mercy ministries. There is room for all of us, not a new aisle to choose from in the great Church supermarket for Christians but a new battallion being sent out onto the frontline of mission. Until we are sufficient in witness there is always room for more.

A new Church plant in Shrewsbury should not be a negative concern because if they are engaging in mission to our town then they are joining us, not competing against us.

There are areas which need active Christian witness within our own borough, and planting a Church there may be part of God's plan in the longer term. If we don't do it I expect someone else will. If someone else does it we will bless them. It is all the same process. If we do it we will do is our way, according to how we understand scripture. But if they do it their way it won't stop us blessing them and their witness.

The whole process needs people to hear from God, show a bit of humility, show a bit of common sense and partner in mission. I think we can pray for renewal in existing churches and new church planting initiatives in equal measure, as they both add much to the overall mission of the Church in the UK. I am for Church planting and I am for renewal - each to where they are called.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Cell Groups

A few years ago "cell groups" seemed to be all the rage. Ralph Neighbour came to the UK and with quite a bit of fanfare the cell concept was born. I used to hear quite a lot about it within newfrontiers conferences but it feels like it has dropped off the agenda somewhat.

Some of the early claims and hopes have proved false, while some have been a bit quick to send the baby flying out with the bathwater. The UK cell movement has learned, revised and strengthened the concept for the UK culture, but some maintain it "doesn't work".

Yesterday Laurence Singlehurst, head of Cell UK and long term proponent of the cell model came to speak at our Church for the second time.

I like Laurence. He is sound. He loves people and he loves people enough to share Jesus with them. I like his heart, and I like the way he actually does what he preaches, and his talks are littered with personal examples.

I can see why people follow him. Because you can't help feel loved by him. He makes you want to love other people better. He makes you want to express Jesus to people in new ways. His book "Sowing, reaping, keeping" is an absolute classic and has shaped the missional perspective of our Church more than any other.

The first question of mission is "How big is your heart?" The rest puts the answer to that question into practice.

He also spoke about being "secret pastor" to our friends. Loving them unconditionally and seeking their spiritual renewal. Do we actually love people enough?

His visit made me think of our cell groups, and the ways cell groups have shaped the Church, and how what we now see compares with the early textbooks.

Here are a few thoughts:

1) In a larger Church, a cell group is often the primary friendship group. Many people don't know many other people, but they do know the people in their groups.

2) Of the people who disengage with Church, a high percentage are either not in a group, or drift away from a group early in the process.

3) Cell meetings are not good to invite non christians to. No-one I know would actually invite a non christian to a cell "meeting". Socials "yes" - meetings "no".

4) Cells are a primary social group for missional friendships and activities. They are a key driver for mission. Bob knows Sam. Bob and Sam become friends. Bob invites Sam to a curry night. Sam comes to further social events. Sam comes to the Church quiz night. Bob invites Sam on Alpha and Sam comes. Sam comes to faith on the Alpha course away day. Sam gets discipled. Sam joins a cell group. The reason cells are a driver in mission is:

Bob was encouraged to pray for Sam at Cell group.
Bob invited Sam to cell group socials, starting with the curry night, where Sam met other friends from Church.
Cell kept praying for Sam.
Sam went to Church quiz night on the cell group team.
Sam went to Alpha and every week the cell prayed for Him.
When Sam comes to faith and is baptised, the whole cell group gather around and pray for him. They are his friendship group, and he naturally joins that group having joined the Church.

He goes to a normal "cell" meeting for the first time as a Christian, but the cell has been instrumental in his journey of faith, and those are his friends in Church.

So cells have become a missional friendship group who send people into Alpha and bring people into fellowship at the other end.

5) The 4 W's is not perfect, but I am yet to find better. Every criticism of it I hear is often genuine, based on poor experiences. I consider the 4 Ws being a trellis around which a healthy, missional friendship group grows. The vitality, holy spirit led creativity that comes when Christians gather has a framework around which to grow and develop.

6) Cells only need a week for witness and mission to disappear off the agenda. Unless it is planned, it does not happen by accident.

7) Having a cell rota and asking people to lead sections is a key way to develop people's gifts within a Church environment. We only have 52 sunday morning teaching slots per year, but we have over 750 cell word sections for people to lead. We only have 52 sunday morning worship times but over 750 cell worship times, which can involve those without musical gifts. The "priesthood of all believer's" can actually be enacted in creative ways.

8) People who don't like cell groups often say it is because they want a "deeper" bible study, but actually it is often because they don't want to live outward looking lives of mission and don't like to be reminded of it. Cerebral, intellectual, "Bomb shelter" Christianity does not enjoy cell. "What does scripture mean" is a great question, but "and so in the light of scripture what should we do" should not be missed off the agenda.

9) Mechanisms are not the answer. The G12 model for example - "we did it here so it will work for you!" But it doesn't always work. And the pain in some Churches has been massive. Too much prescription, too modernist, too a+b+c = lots of converts doesn't work. The model has to be flexible enough to change and move to continue engaging with the situation and culture. Remember Laurence's suggestion - The first question of mission is "How big is your heart?" That is the question a cell group should pose. Not "How many Ws do you use", but "How big is your heart?"

Cells help people to enlarge their heart for mission. They aren't an off the shelf "strategy for effective church growth", they are a useful tool to help us live a life of fellowship and mission.

10) When I talk to most people about cell groups they assume they know what I am talking about, but often after a brief chat it is clear that they don't. Many of the criticisms of the cell model I have heard are because people have started with the 4 Ws and not with the heart for mission. I don't believe Cells are the answer to the future of the church. But I do believe they can have a massive impact in a society that is relational yet lonely, relativist yet truth seeking, disinterested in the church and yet interested in spirituality, and can help to shape a Church that is wanting to grow but struggling or inactive in mission.

Our cells are not perfect. Every group has its own quirks and challenges. Some are stronger than others. All of them depend on their members and those shaping the vision. But I cannot help being excited when I think week by week there are 19 meetings in the estates of the town and surrounding villages as Christians gather to worship, apply the word and reach out to people who don't yet know Jesus. It isn't a perfect model, but it is trying to reach people for Jesus, and in doing so is answering that question: how big is your heart?

Friday, 5 September 2008

Hope 08 Shrewsbury

54,000 reasons for Hope.

That is it, I just put the finishing touches to a 4 page wrap around of our local free newspaper, which we have purchased as local Churches as part of the Hope08 initiative in Shrewsbury, for delivery to 54,000 homes in the town and surrounding villages.

That is 54,000 homes, representing well over 100,000 people, who we are sending a message of hope to.

We are talking about being good news in practical ways - local Churches working with young people, trade justice, the environment, the homeless, those in poverty overseas.

And we are talking about "stories of hope" - local people whose lives have been changed through faith in Jesus. And we are explaining the reason for our hope, Jesus Christ.

I have led an editorial team of 5 people from different Churches to bring this project to fruition, which has been both a priviledge and a pressure, but I think we're done now.

The Hope08 slogan says "Do more, do it together, do it in word and deed". Well this is over 20 churches of all denominations, in a united display of being the body of Christ, in the largest collaborative project locally in recent times, and showing what Christians "do" as well as what God has "done" in us.

Please pray for this, as they hit those 54,000 doormats, for those 54,000 households where 54,000 messages of hope will fall on September 18th.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Using secular songs in worship?

I found this video the other day.

I was amazed when I saw this, not least because of the song used for the worship.

When Dead or Alive released "You spin me around (like a record) "these were the lyrics.

Yeah I, I got to know your name
Well and I, could trace your private number baby
All I know is that to me
You look like you're lots of fun
Open up your lovin' arms
I want some

Well I...I set my sights on you
(and no one else will do)
And I, I've got to have my way now, baby
(and no one else will do)
And I, I've got to have my way now, baby
All I know is that to me
You look like you're havin' fun
Open up your lovin' arms
Watch out, here I come

You spin me right round, baby
right round like a record, baby
Right round round round
You spin me right round, baby
Right round like a record, baby
Right round round round

I, I got be your friend now, baby
And I would like to move in
Just a little bit closer
(little bit closer)

All I know is that to me
You look like you're lots of fun
Open up your lovin' arms
Watch out, here I come


I want your love
I want your love

When that was written I doubt they were expecting "Baby" to be replaced by "Jesus"!

It does all look a little bit too familiar for me, with the same song used here. They even have similar close ups of the kids dancing!

If we were going to plagiarise songs for worship, forgetting the lyrics and just using the chorus, I would much rather go with a bit of mid eighties anthem rock, take Bon Jovi's "Raise your hands" for example.

"Raise your hands
When you want to let it go
Raise your hands
And you want to let a feeling show
Raise your hands
From New York to Chicago
Raise your hands
From New Jersey to Tokyo
Raise your hands"

As long as we're raising our hands to Jesus then that's ok right?!!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Choosing a Christian festival...

Sometime next year I am considering going to a Christian Festival or camp with Esther.

This will be a bit of a holiday and a bit of a time for reflection and being encouraged in our faith.

I enjoy going to the newfrontiers Brighton Conference, and will almost certainly go next year. Esther and I have been together before, and this year I went on my own (with a group from Church) because Esther did not have the leave from work left.

We want to try and do something a bit different, and so I have been researching the options.

Personally speaking, my aim is fairly simple, I want to go and see something new, something outside of the newfrontiers bubble, where different people speak about different issues and bring a different emphasis. I want to enlarge my vision and meet some new people.

So looking through the options and we could go for a "summer camp" option, or one of the "Easter breaks".

Here is my tongue in cheek musings about where I am at with my search.

Grapevine 2009
ticks many of the boxes I am looking for. A large, established christian event, and a different church movement, different speakers and yet many things that would feel very comfortable. £72 seems a bargain too. Godfrey Birtill leading worship is definitely a plus point.

Detling 2009 seems quite interesting, and RT Kendall and Jackie Pullinger on the speaker rostrum for this year sounds very good. John Paul Jackson is an unknown to me. Only the "late booking" prices for last year are online and £129 seems a bit top heavy for camping but I am sure the early bird prices will be cheaper. Eric Delve spoke at the newfrontiers Evangelists Summit this year and was excellent, very very honest and up front. If he is involved I am definitely interested.

Faith Camp is in the Kingdom Faith summer camp, with Colin Urqhart et al. I can't say I have heard of many of the speakers, but that probably says more about me than it does them. What I do know is that friends who go every year think it is absolutely wonderful, and as said friends are a wonderfully mature couple who I aspire to be like, I take that as quite a commendation.

New Wine is very established and our grandparents on one side regularly go. It used to be "Soul Survivor for grown ups" and I know a few of the people involved. Now they have got so big they are going geographic with northern and southern weeks. New Wine at one point was a bastion of the "Vinglican" movement - charismatic Anglicans and vineyard speakers/worship leaders were the mainstay. I assume David and Mary Pytches daughter Debbie (now Wright) being a pastor at Trent Vineyard is one of the connections. I would love to go some time.

Greenbelt is shorter, and having been a couple of times around the turn of the millennium I have certainly enjoyed it in the past. The music line up is always strong, lots of new bands etc, and that is where the bulk of the £77 fee must go towards. Greenbelt has always had a strong social activism edge, and is not afraid to challenge the norms. This has led to one or two issues in the past, with groups like the Nine O'Clock Service being given a profile. I went to one worship time led by "Holy disorder" and I will just say it was one of the strangest things I have ever experienced. This year the fact they had invited a married lesbian christian to do talks would have been enough to give some friends of mine a nosebleed, but that is the strength of Greenbelt - it is an open ended array of speakers from across a spectrum of the body of Christ, and this year big hitters like Joel Edwards, Philip Yancey and Brian McLaren are worth going for.

Spring Harvest is the major player in the "Easter Breaks" category, and I would suggest it is where i made the greatest step forward in "coming to faith" at Spring Harvest when it was at Pwllheli in the early nineties. I have also been to one at Minehead. I like Spring Harvest because on the whole it has been a centrist, positive expression of the UK charismatic evangelical scene. I am tempted, and the half board for £190 option is not bad for a week.

New Word Alive raises all sorts of questions for me. Terry Virgo is speaking and Stuart Townend leading worship, so there are some home comforts! Yet for me it would be a bit like returning to the scene of a crime. It would mean me facing issues left untouched for several years, when, as a student I had a sometimes unhappy existence, for being a charismatic, by the kind of people who wore beige Farah Trousers, brown leather moccasin shoes, and went to "Word Alive"!

I am told that "things have changed" and that there is much more understanding these days, and I really would like to test the water. It appears from a distance that the influence of reformed charismatic scholars like Grudem has had huge influence in making charismatic theology a bit more respected. It seems like the worship of people like Stuart Townend, and the teaching of people like Terry Virgo has done similar. It also seems that when the atonement debate blew up a couple of years back many people realised that we were willing to die next to each other in the trenches defending substitutionary atonement, and maybe we weren't that different after all.

It looks like that option is just over £200 a week half board, which is by no means cheap, but if it is likely to be over £100 a head for camping without food, then I may consider making a real holiday of it. There is also the irony that it means going back to Pwllheli, which is far closer than either Spring Harvest venue, and the place where I really first understood deep in my heart that I wanted to give my life to Christ...

Anyone got any other ideas?