Friday, 18 December 2009

This year...

And so, Friday 18th December, so starts my christmas holiday!

Two full weeks, every day is a blessing! I know I will be busy on Sunday and at our christmas day service but even so, my holiday begins at 5pm today.

And so, approaching a holiday that marks the end of a year, I start by looking back. apologies if this seems like one of those episodes of the Simpsons or Friends where they just crib the best bits and cobble together a story. This is my journey, with my heart on my sleeve.

This year we have launched two Sunday meetings which has taken lots of time to plan and involved a tremendous Gift Day which allowed a major revamp of our main hall. We hosted a big community week which alongside running Alpha in January and in September and working with other Churches has made me really excited.

The year had exceptionally sad challenges, including the death of my grandfather, a lovely young man in the Church and a fabulous worship leader. And it all seemed to happen at once.

I have lost weight, and kept it off, and now stand at 11 stone 12 pounds this morning, and I learned more about myself than I have by doing almost anything else.

I have preached twelve times on Sundays, and lead the main meeting an astonishing 19 of our 52 mornings. I have preached on Freedom in Christ 3 times, Alpha 4 times, at our youth meeting 4 times and at another church's meeting for 18-25s once. In a Church this size, and with the teaching gifts of people like Martin Charlesworth and Terry Hotchkiss in this church, I find the level of trust they have placed in me, and willingness to allow me opportunities an absolute priviledge.

I turned 30, and considered the blessings and challenges of my first year in eldership. I greatly appreciated the Newfrontiers Younger Leaders Weekend, as well as the Evangelist's Summit and the Brighton Conference.

I considered what it means to "work together" in posts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 and have finished the year considering what I love about Anglicans, Methodists, Mike Pilavachi, Spring Harvest, Holy Trinity Brompton and the Para-church.

I want this blog to actually be my story. My journal. My hopes and dreams. My fears and failures. Open and honest. Gentle yet firm. Thanks for following, thanks for commenting, thanks for reading, and for being part of my journey.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

5 things I love about the para-church...

I have a fairly high view of Church. I come from essentially "restorationist" stock. I believe in the local Church. I want to see a beautiful bride. I give priority to the local Church in my time, effort and finances (even before my employment). I believe the Church is what God has instituted to be an agent of mission, justice, and a community for believers to belong. So I am 100% for the Church. I do also think there are some issues with para-church organisations. But equally there are issues with Churches, all Churches.

In some cases, I think criticisms of the "para-church" have been exaggerated, and I think a high view of the "Church" has been extrapolated to be a criticism of the para-church which ceases to be helpful.

Here are five things I love about the para-church.

1) INTERNATIONAL AID: Look at what Tearfund, World Vision, Christian Aid and Cafod have achieved on behalf of the Church. The DEC appeal happens and amongst the biggest hitters are the Christian relief agencies. The climate change march happens in London and the first two banners I see on the main 6 o'clock news? Tearfund and Christian Aid! Now there is a great place for Churches to make offerings to be administered by local Churches, like Newfrontiers have done with Zimbabwe and Kenya recently. That is great, but what about the Pakistan Earthquake or the Tsunami? Experienced, relevant, well organised and resourced agencies are well placed to give the poor and oppressed food, shelter, medical aid and the like. Those are all kingdom values, and if there is not the church there to do it (or the church is not able to do it efficiently) then sending an agency is the only option.

2) PUBLISHING AND THE BIBLE: The editing committees of the bibles we read are essentially para-church bodies. They have to be to avoid sectarian bias. The translation organisations like Wycliffe are essentially para-church not local church. The bible distribution agencies like The Bible Society and Gideons are essentially para-church. So if I am a good evangelical and love the word of God, I am reliant on a para-church bodies to translate, produce and distribute the Bible for me. Lots of christian publishing is effectively "para-church". My local Christian bookshop is "para-church" by some definitions. It suits me when I need a Christian book...

3) EQUIPPING LOCAL CHURCH MINISTRY: Organisations like Care for the Family, Zacharius Trust or Freedom in Christ Ministries etc produce resources and events which help to resource, network, encourage and equip Churches in their mission.

4) CAMPS AND FESTIVALS: Several of the major camps and festivals have become "para-church", or maybe "inter-church". The blessing these provide is evident. I believe in the Church and so I love things that build up the Church.

5) RESPONSIVENESS: Lots of the para-church organisations that have sprung up which do functions which could (or should!) be done by the local church tend to exist because the local church in that place or in that denomination or in that generation or in that nation did not do it. The church was failing due to lack of understanding, resistance to change, lack of resources, whatever, but there was a gap. Christians saw the gap and sought to fill it. Now I may well still hold the view that the Church is the priority, and that these things should be undertaken within a local church context, but I still have to admire and appreciate people who took huge risks, stepped out of the boat and filled a void because of the call of God.

Add it all up, and I want to hold a very high priority of the local church within a framework of a very high priority of the kingdom of God. I don't see that the two should ever compete, so if it feels like they are, I probably need to look in my own heart first.

More to the point, I don't want to become the person speaking at a para-church christian event, recommending a resource from a para-church organisation which is sold by another para-church organisation, who expresses a priority of the local Church that excludes all the people who have given me that opportunity in the first place. That would seem a little redundant.

I do believe in the local Church, which is why in some cases, I need the para-church.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

5 things I love about Holy Trinity Brompton...

In my recent post about Anglicans I found myself rather overwhelmed with warm and fuzzy feelings towards Holy Trinity Brompton. So much so it warranted its own post. Here are five things I really want to love and honour about HTB.

PROCESS EVANGELISM: UK evangelicalism got stuck in a Billy Graham crusade mindset of "hands up and follow Jesus" being what evangelism was. Making a one off call for salvation is still completely valid but Alpha put the gospel into bite sized chunks, and gave an increasingly postmodern culture time to engage with it. It also added in food and friendship and made it relational. It actually turned a mindset from a "get them in the door and hit them with it" kind of sales technique usually preserved for timeshares, and made it 10-15 weeks of friendship and discussion. Two weeks ago there were over 10 people at our Sunday morning meeting who came to faith via our September Alpha Course. Alpha is like the muscle helping to empower that side of Church life.

RESOURCES: The resources you need to run Alpha are available, good value, and well presented. Alpha is not just a good idea, it is an "of the shelf" suite of resources to help to actually make your vision a reality. Their national advertising, in the press and in cinemas, has been the largest scale Christian publicity I can remember. The excellent "Alpha Friends" website is full of ideas and resources. Recently, when churches in Shrewsbury decided to advertise our Alpha Courses together, the resources available to us, including print ready leaflets, were excellent.

TRAINING & RELATIONSHIPS: One of the greatest decisions HTB made was when they started running training courses, training weekends and then local training days. That meant two things. Firstly, people starting out heard what it was like from the coal face, not just the text book. Secondly, HTB engaged itself in a consistent review process of the Alpha materials because they had produced them, and now they were having constant contact with people actually using them. Alpha has since developed shorter sessions, the course has fewer sessions, new ways of approaching subjects and Churches have been given freedom to juggle the course a bit within parameters to make it "work" for them. HTB has entered into a relationship with those who run Alpha on a local level, and in doing so have improved the course greatly and have really kept their finger on the pulse.

BEING YOURSELVES: The HTB crowd are a definition of white middle class Britishness. They look, sound, and do things all the time that reinforce this. An Alpha "Supper" kicks things off. Supper for me is biscuits and hot chocolate before bed, not a meal! I have never been to a school, college, workplace, or even restaurant where it would be called "supper". They developed the course to reach people around them and they were just being themselves. Unashamedly themselves. That is why it works. I think it gives the whole thing much more credibility. They have not hammed it up to try and make it all hip and down with it. And you know what? We have seen ex-drug addicts and university lecturers, alcoholics and senior managers all come to faith through Alpha. With Nicky's story of a "Nicky party" away at University somehow reaching across all demographic indicators. I love them for being themselves. For not faking anything. For being faithful.

UNITY: Alpha for Catholics is a seminal point in the development of the course. HTB have gone further than many evangelicals would fear to tread, and received some serious criticism for it. Yet this is part of their calling. Alpha is not just an evangelism tool, it is a renewal movement with Anglicanism and to a smaller extent, now within Catholicism. Now that really pushes back the boundaries of where and how evangelicals function and how an essentially evangelical gospel presentation fits into the wider body of Christ. Rather than retreat into their own enclave HTB have built bridges and burst through preconceptions, without changing the message. And I think God honours that kind of borderless love of the body of Christ that has taken them into rarely chartered waters.

And now HTB is moving into Church planting outside London, developing stronger international links and massively empowering the UK worship scene, within five years this juggernaut of a move of God will have probably earned another five points!

Friday, 11 December 2009

5 things I love about Spring Harvest...

Here are 5 things I want to love and honour about the Spring Harvest movement.

1) THE GOSPEL: I gave my life to Jesus at Spring Harvest. Well, growing up in a Christian home I "responded" a few times to be fair, but this is the time it changed everything. I was asked, aged 11 or so, to come forward, if I wanted to turn away from my old life, follow Jesus, and receive forgiveness from Him through his finished work on the cross. I went forward. That was my moment. Nothing could ever be the same. Jesus HAD actually conquered my sin, had redeemed me, I was adopted, into relationship with God, a ransom had been paid, my punishment settled, I was free, my chains were broken, I moved from slavery into sonship. And I knew all these things because they had done a very good job at explaining exactly what Jesus had done and exactly what I was responding too and exactly what I would need to do about it in the future. This was not an over-hyped, over-emotional youth meeting, this was the scales falling from my eyes and being beckoned by Jesus.
2) THE WORSHIP: Over the last twenty years or so Spring Harvest has essentially been a melting pot out of which the best of British worship music rises to the surface. Spring Harvest worship albums and resources have helped shape the worship across a wide spectrum of the Church. They really, really, love Jesus. And in the moment, with thousands gathered, that is probably where I started to really unearth my own heart and desire to worship God. Worse still, they even got away with songs I don't even like, and God still moved!

3) THE UNITY: Spring Harvest is a really mixed bunch. If British evangelicalism has a spectrum then Spring Harvest is a rainbow! Broadly Charismatic although not crazy, staunchly evangelical although not narrow, somehow Spring Harvest manages to break down denominational barriers and not be some box ticking exercise of unity but actually be people together. It is a source of immense sadness that Word Alive did not stay within the wider Spring Harvest movement, but even so, Spring Harvest will remain a key component of the calendar of many British evangelicals, and a continued blessing from God to His Church

4) YOUTH: Spring Harvest youth was the first "youth" I saw being done really, really well. When I think of the influence of stuff like Soul Survivor and other ministries since then I remember Spring Harvest, the "Big Toaster" youth meetings, the noise, the lights, the energy and see where much of it was birthed. Spring Harvest did "youth" well, and was part of what made the Church in the UK wake up and start to do "youth" well.

5) THE ORGANISATION: Spring Harvest was big, resourced, well planned and accessible. The scale of meetings, scale of sites used and reputation of platform speakers really set a trend for what has followed. Suddenly Christian festivals are now a genuine marketing opportunity for showgrounds and holiday camps, and Spring Harvest was part of that growth. The success of other camps and movements since then is partly building on the fact stuff like Spring Harvest made it "normal" to go away with a few families from your Church and meet with Jesus.

Time for another bold statement: Spring Harvest has been, and will continue to be, a major blessing to UK evangelicalism. Turning the "gathering" into hands on "activism" and "mission" is the trajectory they are on, which is incredibly exciting to watch, and perhaps even, be part of.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Further discussion on Methodism

Dave Warnock commented to my first post in this series:
I do have a small concern though. I recently heard a mostly excellent talk by someone from New Frontiers who talked about the Methodist tradition, it was good except that it attempted to claim the heritage while totally ignoring the present. To a conference with a lot of Methodists it was not exactly helpful to look at current Methodism as just a source of heritage and buildings for New Frontiers.

I obviously cannot comment fully on that talk or that event as I was not there.

Areas of social justice, social activism and the environment would be where I see modern Methodism as being strong and having a track record with which they can influence and encourage the wider body of Christ. For example our local Methodist Church was the second in the town to gain the eco-congregation status. I think this is a good thing, and a provocation. If we go down that route in the future the Methodists (and the URC) paved the way.

This Christmas our local area the Churches, including us and the Methodists are giving out 4,000 Christmas cards and inviting our community to our various Christmas events, together.

Last year I served on the Hope 08 planning group which included a local methodist minister and we did large scale bit of publicity to 54,000 homes, together.

But Dave poses a very interesting question. I think many people don't know much about modern Methodism, or what they do know about feels confused. It does for me.

You would be left with big questions if you spoke to one of the thousands in the membership of many evangelical churches in the UK, in the newer churches or in the older denominations, a whole generation of Methodist evangelicals, including former Church leaders, who feel they have been "driven out" of Methodism over the last 40 years. "Methodism" does not present itself as being an evangelical movement now, but it was. And that is where I, as an evangelical, feel my strongest connection with Methodism lies, at the point we were closest. Or with the parts of Methodism that still hold that ethos.

I would also suggest it depends mostly on people's experiences on a local level, and the methodists they know, those whose blogs they read etc. In the same way people's view of newfrontiers is shaped by which bits they have or have not seen or who they think speaks for all. The local experience often changed every five years with the minister, who for other Church leaders is their primary contact with the Church. The spectrum is so wide, and changes so regularly, that commenting on "Methodism" becomes a bit difficult.

Evangelical representation within the "Churches Together" movement is sketchy in places, so the connections are limited. I would imagine local Methodists consider our church (and others in the town) to be distant because we are not fully engaged with Churches Together locally.

I also think Methodism nationally has had something of a self-depricating public face which means as an evangelical growing up and going to university from the 1980s onwards it has not been on the radar, at all.

I knew about New Wine, Fusion, UCCF, Soul Survivor, Alpha, YWAM, OM, Youth for Christ etc. they were well marketed to me. I had friends from Elim, AOG, Vineyard, the C of E etc. My walk with God as an evangelical Christian meant I barely ever rubbed shoulders with Methodism except when we had refreshments after a Fairtrade march in Birmingham city centre once.

I would not deliberately "ignore" modern Methodism as such but rather would not know enough about it to comment, and frankly, am a bit weary of hearing how bad things are from Methodists themselves. I don't know what to say, or even sometimes where to look. I remember a Methodist preacher speaking at a united service here about ten years ago who was so disparaging about his Church it made me really uncomfortable. If newfrontiers is accused of arrogance then Methodism must be accused of and unhelpful level of self-deprecation.

With all that said, if I lived in Market Drayton in Shropshire, and wanted a local Church, this is the Church I would go to, without question. Some of their people have visited us to share ideas and learn from each other, and none of them fit into the critical category I have outlined above. As I read their "about us" section it ticks many of the boxes I would look for in a Church. There are hundreds of Methodist Churches like it all over the country, and they remain true to the heart of Methodism that I see as my heritage too.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Have a fairtrade break...

Well, well, well, Nestle have got in on the act.

Soon Kit Kat will be fairtrade.

Interesting that "even" Nestle, with all its faults, now sees Fairtrade as a necessity for the UK market.

The big names keep piling in, and the farmers will benefit. Just 20 years ago this was a pipe dream. 10 years ago it was a ridiculous assertion. 5 years ago it was a vague hope. Now the floodgates are opening!

5 things I love about Methodists...

These are some things I want to honour Methodism in the UK for. These are more to do with legacy rather than my personal experiences of Methodism (which are limited) and so is much further from the current coal face than my previous post on Anglicanism.

1) HERITAGE: I am a British non-conformist. Therefore Wesley & Whitefield are in some sense my "Church Fathers" and everything else follows that. OK, maybe that is slightly over-egged, but even so. I can't get away from the fact I am heavily influenced by this heritage. Neither can the Church in the UK. If there was just one time we could go back to. If there was one movement we could choose. If their was one evangelist. If there was one revival. John Wesley, the birth of Methodism, is almost always in our minds when we start praying for revival now.

2) SMALL GROUP: Methodism helped pioneer laity involvement, smaller group structures, discipleship groups, small groups. Much of what you read in a 1990s American "Cell group" textbook was happening in 1820s Bristol with a few updates for the charismatic renewal and a postmodern culture. The priesthood of all believers, an engaged and active laity, Methodism broke down barriers and we live in the good of it.

3) MISSION: The Wesleys were about Mission. Self-sacrificing-travelling- miles-to-explain-the-gospel-to-people-who-did-not-follow-Christ kind of mission. Nation changing mission. Local mission, national mission, international mission. Building missional communities on the back of public preaching of the gospel: sound familiar? The way some within methodism have grasped the "fresh expressions" concept recently shows a desire for mission still burns strong.

4) JUSTICE: Methodism has always had a big heart for the poor, the outcast, the oppressed. Modern day Methodism has in some ways helped lead the way on issues such as the environment, fairtrade, social justice. While newer Churches have been getting excited about lighting rigs and decibels the Methodists have been engaging with the marginalised and oppressed both in the UK and overseas. They are a provocation to the rest of the body of Christ in this area and are to be commended for it.

5) HYMNS!: Charles Wesley is the greatest hymn writer of all time. That is it really. Methodism helped give UK protestantism boldness to use contemporary (for then) music to engage the culture with robust biblical truth through worship songs. The ripples are still being felt today. More of our Church worship culture is shaped by this than almost anything else. Throw in a Charismatic renewal and here we are. If anything, I desire a return to some of the robustness of the old hymns, in terms of biblical truth and not just "Jesus is my cuddle buddy" sort of stuff.

Some of the Methodists I know say freely and openly "Methodism in the UK is dying." Denominationally speaking that may or may not be the case. It is not my place to judge. But I do see that missional, worshipful, gospel declaring, justice seeking activism are in the DNA of much of UK evangelicalism.

Because of this DNA "Methodism" will never "die" because there is a little bit of "Methodist" in all of us.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

5 things I love about Anglicans...

Ready for a bold statement? I believe evangelicalism in the UK in the last century would be a pale shadow of what it is without the Anglican Church. Or rather, without the evangelical wing of the Anglican Church.

Here is why:

1) SCHOLARSHIP: Many of the heavyweights of British evangelicalism, McGrath, Stott, Wenham, Wright, and on and on and on come from and work(ed) within the Anglican communion. Remove them from the scholarly record of the last 50 years and life would be so different. Evangelicalism cannot stand firm in 21st century Britain without the scholarship of the Anglicans. Period.

2) THE ALPHA COURSE: Far and away the greatest evangelistic breakthrough in the last twenty years is the Alpha Course. Not just the Alpha Course, the resources, the training, the encouragement, the national initiatives, the local initiatives. I think HTB just earned their own post in this series!

3) NEW WINE NETWORK: Another bold claim. If revival falls upon the UK I believe the movement currently best placed to resource, administer and share it will be some of the movers and shakers within New Wine. People like Mark Bailey in Cheltenham are on the absolute cusp of something which could change a generation.

4) DETERMINATION: Evangelical Anglicans are a determined bunch. They have to be. Their willingness to not reject, but to renew, an institution like the Church of England, with all its history, merits, quirks and frustrations, is to be applauded, supported, and honoured. I actually think it is a harder calling than just starting from scratch like so many "new Churches" have.

5) ESTABLISHMENT: The continued establishment of the Church of England gives them opportunities within our nation almost unrivalled across the globe. "Hatch, Match and Dispatch" is used as a derogatory term, and yet what if by a great move of the Spirit Churches were empowered to use these connections to bring people to Christ? The constitutional postion of the Anglicans gives them opportunities we can only dream of, and challenges we can only pray we never have. We must stand with our brothers and sisters and pray God empowers them to use these opportunities for the growth of the kingdom.

Just five, I could go on. This list is personal, speculative, and may just contain enough truth to mean people think twice when being derogatory about the Anglican Church.

Thursday, 3 December 2009


I am part of the body of Christ. That is much bigger than me, my family, my church, my town, my church family, my nation, in fact, it is bigger than my mind can comprehend as only God truly understands the magnitude, variety and importance of it.

One thing I see/hear newfrontiers being accused of is being too focussed on its "distinctives". In the wikipedia entry for newfrontiers there is a seperate section on the accusation of "exclusiveness".

I think being clear about who you are or where you are headed is certainly a strength, but not at the cost of a perceived undervaluing of our links, our connections, our unions, our heart joined, value shared "part of the body of christ"ness.

So I am going to blog about what I value about other traditions / groups / movements that I have experienced. What I love, honour and aspire to from other parts of this wonderful body we are priviledged to be part of.

My experiences are limited, my knowledge incomplete and my history sketchy in places, but here are a few thoughts for your perusal.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


Stop the Traffik is an excellent organisation.

Oasis Trust do a great work in this area.

Steve Chalke has written an excellent book on this subject.

A young lady from our Church recently spent 4 months working with Oasis in India.

On Saturday night we had an Indian evening. I was in charge of the kitchen. We fed over 100 people, raised over £1000 for the Stop the Traffik campaign, and the presentation about her time in India was simply outstanding.

Two local curry houses helped sponsor the event, and the Church provided the rest of the food.

It was a great social event: people sat by new people and met people they did not know from Church

It was a great community event: There were lots of guests there. Work friends, college friends.

It was a great "kingdom" event: Promoting a real issue which matters to God.

A fun, informal, evening with a stark, serious, informative and challenging message. By 10.30pm I was pretty tired but thrilled with what it means to be part of this Church community.