Friday, 31 October 2008

Freedom in Christ

I did the "Steps to Freedom in Christ" day on Saturday as a guest of another local Church, as we launch the course here on Sunday.

I have got to say, it was a very special day.

What I liked about it was the clarity of "taking hold of the truth" for yourself.

This was not going to see the particular "guru" counsellor or minister who could pray hard enough for you to be free.

This was about discipleship. About choosing to believe. About laying down falsehood or pain and picking up truth and holding on to it.

In short, it was far better than I thought it would be. I am always wary of pre-packaged models but this seemed very personal.

Amongst the lists of things to consider praying about each section started with a prayer. "Lord, show me what I should pray about. Bring to my mind what I need to deal with". I was simply amazed at the things that came to mind. Past experiences, hurts, concerns, relationships, even dreams and nightmares as a child.

No-one asked me anything. No-one hinted at anything. I just prayed, and then dealt with what came to mind.

I loved the emphasis on taking hold of the truth. Too often the Church at large has given the impression that you need specialists in every area of counselling or healing to have a chance at "getting" healing. What I liked about this day was that we each have a specialist, our Father in Heaven, and we do have access to Him, on a daily basis, or in my case, in a strange kind of way, especially on Saturday.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Zippy's month birthday!

God graciously provided me with a moped to use to get to work.

Yesterday marked a month of using "Zippy" to and from work, and so here is my first month report.

1) I have had to fill the tank with petrol twice. Costing a total of £11. I am currently averaging something like 130 mpg!

2) I can park up right outside the new football stadium without having to pay!

3) I have been able to make several pastoral visits quickly and easily.

4) Early morning prayer meetings now involve very very cold journeys!

5) Waterproof trousers are a must buy!

6) Motorcycle helmets and glasses are a lethal combination.

7) Freedom of transport is an amazing thing. You don't appreciate it until you lose it. You forget how much it means until you have it back.

8) Nobody respects a fully grown man on a 49cc scooter (except maybe a 15 year old who live in the countryside). Don't buy one for the image rights.

9) Cars will genuinely overtake you on a 30mph road despite the fact you are travelling at 30mph. It MUST be psychological!

10) Every time I start up Zippy I remember how God has provided for me. It is amazing how quickly we become used to His provision - keeping focus on thanks changes how we view the world.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Growing or swapping?

An interesting comment was made at a local inter-church meeting recently where another church leader in the town of a large church suggested that even though some of the Churches in the town look like they are growing, overall it is just transfer growth between the different churches and not the kingdom growing overall.

I do believe that sometimes this is the case, but even so, it felt very wide of the mark.

Just a quick scan through our Church directory shows me 52 people who have come to our Church via the Alpha Course as previously unchurched or backslidden Christians.

Most new members are either recently moved to the area, come to faith within our Church outreach, or have grown up in the Church and come to faith as teenagers. Two of those mean the kingdom is growing!

It just seemed a bit odd, as a way of trying to spark people into a greater urgency for mission, to imply the fruit we already see is not really fruit at all. I wonder why people seem to look for negatives to spur a reaction, rather than set a positive agenda for mission to which people can give their lives?

The Financial Crisis

On Sunday Morning our series on Abraham was interrupted for a one off "state of the nation" style address by Martin about the financial crisis.

It isn't very often this happens - perhaps the Tsunami was the last time.

But there does come a time when people do feel a sense of nervousness and it is important to teach into it. Cells will be discussing the implications this week and there will be an opportunity for individuals to support and encourage each other.

I believe that the Church has a huge amount to say about finances, justice, wealth and stewardship. I just wish it wasn't confused by prosperity rantings or church roof funds, which means the average man in the street just thinks the church is after your money.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Sticking up for Kendrick...

The Daily Mail recently published their 50 people who wrecked Britain.

There, at number 39, one worse than Gordon Brown, was Graham Kendrick!

Here is the apparent justification:

Happy-cr*ppy hymns are a pestilence. They demean adult worship, dragging it to a level even lower than that of Mrs C. F. Alexander's All Things Bright And Beautiful (1848). They are self-obsessed, babyish, cliched, simplistic.

Several authors have written these appalling hymns. The daddy of them all when it comes to such gloopy nonsense, however, is Graham Kendrick, author of Shine, Jesus, Shine.

Kendrick, who has a personal website complete with an efficient shopping section, is the nation's pre-eminent churner-outer of evangelical bilge. Imagine Pam Ayres without the humour.

He started writing hymns in the late Sixties and has now written 400 of the ruddy things. Should it not be a strength of Anglican worship that it does not move with the times and instead provides continuity at a time of baffling change?

But no. It's out with the harmonium! In with the electric guitar! Out with the hymns sung by our forebears, such as He Who Would Valiant Be and Hills Of The North. In with the roughagerich Bind Us Together or the negro spiritual cum grammatical solecism It's A Me, O' Lord.

The sturdy hymns of England, musical embodiment of the stoicism, resolve and undemonstrative solidarity of our nation, are in severe peril, and all thanks to ill-shaven remnants of the late Sixties - grinning inadequates who have never got over the fact that they weren't Cat Stevens.

Frankly - this is a ridiculous piece of writing. But, daftness aside it does rather highlight the absolutely massive impact that Kendrick's ministry has had upon christian culture in ways that spill out into popular culture. Looking at the "legacy" of Kendrick's ministry is a two part exercise. On the one hand, there can be a tendency for more modern songs to lack a certain backbone or meaning and this can cause worship to end up totally devoid of purpose. But whose fault is that? Certainly not Kendrick's - for his ministry effectively opened the floodgates for a whole genre of Christian music which has brought christian worship flying into the mainstream in ways never though possible by previous generations.

When Delirious went on tour with Bryan Adams and Bon Jovi in 2001 and 2002 Christian music had entered a whole new ball game. That game was invented by a group of musicians in the late 70s and early 80s of whom Kendrick became the face of something that was always much larger than him.

I cannot remember the last time I sung "Shine Jesus Shine" as it is one of those songs which has gone over the edge of popularity and into farce in the public consciousness. Kendrick now gets the response Abba get in popular music. But the simple fact is that he helped to open a door through which massive blessing was poured out onto the Church and it's mission in the UK and overseas. It may have cost him mention in a few negative newspaper articles, but frankly, his presence there is testament to his impact as much as anything else.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Weekend wonders

The weekend - the last bastion of relaxation in modern life!

Hmm - not really!

Friday night - Youth Alpha. I spoke on "How can I trust the bible" to about 65 teenagers. Apparently the groups went really well afterwards. I posed the question "If you received a text message from God what would you want it it say?" I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for the discussions!

Saturday started with some sermon preparation for Sunday, and then off to wacth Shrewsbury surrender their home record to a Port Vale side who managed 6 yellow cards and a red card in one game, and won it with a horrendous goal 6 minutes into injury time which came about after a challenge on our goalkeeper that left him requiring hospital treatment and 15 stiches in 3 different wounds to his face!

Then in the evening we had the "Big Barnabas Bash" to celebrate 25 years of the Church, which was a fabulous collection of music & comedy sketches. I love the richness and vitality of the creativity within a multi generational Church. I hosted the evening, did a drama, ended up coming second in a Jelly eating contest and then fitting a rubber kitchen glove on my head to do a chicken impression. I am not overly sure if that counts as contractual obligations for the role of elder but it sure was fun. Far too many church leaders take themselves far too seriously. I will post the video of my chicken impression on here to prove that I do not!

25 years eh? We are beoming a little long in the tooth for a so-called "new" church.

Then on Sunday morning I spoke on the ethiopian official during our baptism service, with two young women baptised. One was one of our youth and the other is in her early 20s and came to faith on the Alpha Course last year. I love the faith of the Ethiopian. "Why shouldn't I be baptised here". Good question - crack on, and step forward in faith. I love it when there are lots of guests and family there. There were all sorts here on Sunday, including a high profile local former football hooligan who I chatted to for a good ten minutes after the service.

Sunday afternoon was lunch with some fantastic friends from Church. A mature couple who are a constant source of encouragement to many of the younger people. The kind of people worth twice their body weight in gold, because they don't use their wisdom and experience to control but to release and to bless.

Then I was hoping to go to a "Mission Shrewsbury" united service in the evening, but to be honest, the flesh was weak and the spirit was not even very willing! So I made my apologies so that Esther and I could chill out in front of the X-Factor repeat of what we had missed on Saturday.

All in all it was a cracking weekend, but it was great to come to work again this morning for a rest!

Monday, 6 October 2008

Gathering Leaders

On Saturday we gathered the general leadership team of the Church for a time of worship, prayer, and discussion of the key challenges facing our Church as we seek to develop and reach more people.

We are happy where we are, but we are getting too full, with Sunday attendances averaging over 300 in a hall that can only realistically take 350 comfortably, even though one Sunday this year we had 417 at a baptism service!

So the question is: how can we change things to allow more room for more people?

The discussion was wide ranging and covered lots ideas, but especially the potential to develop a second sunday service which would create space to add new people to.

Lots of questions were posed - morning, afternoon or evening?

Aimed at families? Older people? Young adults? Everyone?

There were lots of ideas, and lots of potential to develop, but what really impressed me above all other things was the attitude of our leadership team:

1) Standing still and looking after what we have is not an option
2) We want to reach new people with the gospel
3) We realise that there is a cost to this and yet we are still up for it

I left the meeting knowing we really have to hear from God about the future, but absolutely convinced that together we can achieve something for Him.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Cell UK

Many Churches run all sorts of different types of small groups.

We are happy using the cell model and have been greatly blessed by the resources of Cell UK.

I was speaking to a Church leader in another town yesterday who was looking at cell groups in their church and previous issues they have had running them and I put forward the suggestion "The thing is about the cell model, is that it is a heart attitude more than anything else. You can't just copy a model and hope it is successful unless you have the vision"

It was at that point I realised just how influenced I am by the ministry of Laurence Singlehurst, as that sounds word for word like the sort of thing he would say.

But it is true though. We are not looking for an off the shelf quick fix solution to Church growth, we are looking for our hearts to be shaped to become a more missional community.

The same can be said of the Alpha Course.

Every week church offices across the land get blasted with adverts for all sorts of resources and packaged courses in evangelism, discipleship, reaching out, engaging with your community, caring for your people. You name it, you can probably buy it on an 8 DVD pack for £89 + p&p.

I am weary of the claims made on the promotional materials - the pastor from X town somewhere saying how it has changed his Church.

I do believe that some of these resources are fantastic tools to help churches, but I fear for a christian culture that relies too heavily on pre-packaged programmes. That is one reason I have a deep respect for Cell UK, because it is a conversational movement between likeminded Churches whose resources are born out of local Church experience across denominational lines. That means their training / ideas have been shaped dramatically by experiences in the UK over the last 10 years and the whole concept is now more of a conversation than a fixed package, and the results are far more useful because of it.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Disappointment with CBMW

I am a regular reader of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) website and I am becoming increasingly unhappy with some of the terminology used. This is partly because what I have seen written by some of their contributors differs widely from where I see myself on the scale.

The sermon at our church this week was more a practical discussion rather than a massive theological defence of our position. This is a subject to be engaged with, not retreated against.

This article doesn't stack up for me, unless the only people to ever preach in any Church are elders of that Church or appointed elders of other Churches. Does that rule out any preacher ever who is currently not an active elder in a local church?

"And second, whether one believes that women should exert elder authority in the local church by preaching a sermon is ultimately a much larger question than merely that of church order"

I just don't see "preaching a sermon" in that light. Laurence Singlehurst came and served our Church faithfully by preaching to us a couple of weeks ago. He is not, to my knowledge an elder of his local church. He came to serve the vision of our church as laid down by the elders of this Church who have responsibility before God to shepherd the people here. He did not usurp our authority by preaching here, as he was fully qualified to teach on the subject and yet willingly submitted to the brief we gave him in order to serve our vision.

He did not preach as an elder, he preached as a servant to God's word and our church vision laid down by our eldership. Did we falsely allow him to exert elder authority by letting him speak?

And then when we define elder, how far do we restrict what we mean by it in all the different forms of church government? If we have a fairly clear definition of elder which includes a gender distinction (which we do), then should we invite a fellow church leader who does not hold the same definition of elder? Someone who does not work clearly in a team, for example? Is that ok as long as they are a bloke? That would also compromise what we meant by "elder".

Some of the tone of the CBMW website is unsettling. Looking at the CBMW vision they state it "Serves as the evangelical voice for the biblical view of gender to the Christian community and the world" which is not true. Exchange the word "biblical" for "complimentarian" and remove the word evangelical (for evangelicals inhabit both sides of the discussion) and they are correct.

Mary Kassian states on a front page quote "Feminism and christianity are like thick oil and water: their very natures dictate that they cannot be mixed". This is a ludicrous generalisation.

Firstly - what do you mean by feminism? Radical feminism? Feminist scholarship? Liberal feminism? Evangelical feminism?

Secondly, feminism has brought massive social benefits to women such as better pay and flexible working hours, maternity rights etc. At the same time it brings certain challenges that the Church must respond to according to scripture, but no more than the subjugation of women in previous generations and even now brought challenges which needed to be responded to. In fact had the Church responded to scripture sooner in defence of women there would have been no need for the feminist movement, in many ways. It all depends on how you understand or define feminism.

"Perhaps more than ever before, it is clear that this debate is unfolding as a contention about the authority of scripture itself." is a difficult statement to read. I appreciate greatly the work of Grudem, Piper et al and find is sad that CBMW is drawing a line where it is. It excludes any that uphold male headship but define it more softly, and uphold male eldership but define church preaching differently, and it appears to label anything not four square in its position "egalitarian" and then imply that egalitarianism is the product of feminism, and feminism and christianity should not be mixed.

That is a massive wedge to drive between two churches who believe in male headship but define it slightly differently.

NB: I have amended the name having had my mistake pointed out!