Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Hub !

I am still processing the sessions from the weekend away and I will blog Roger and Lesley's teaching in the next week or so.

I was though struck by a number of other things that came up during the weekend, and I thought I would share one of them here, because I think they offer an insight into some of the opportunities we have as Christians  in the UK; and also because  although there are differences between their situation and ours, there are also similarities.

Altrincham Baptist Church has an old building, built for a bygone age.In common with Claremont they had a rather forbidding, and not very accesible entrance. I cannot believe their gents toilets were as bad as ours!
Not far away from ABC was a community building run by the local council,which was under threat. My understanding is that  the church went to the council and offered to run it for them for an initial period of 2 years.During that time the church renamed the building "The Hub" and  began to turn the centre into a thriving place for everyone in the area.
Facilities include rooms for all kinds of community events and a coffee shop. The church has now extended the lease to 25 years.The council recognise it as one of the best community partnerships in the area and the church have put down deep roots into the local community through which the love of Jesus may flow and the gospel of Jesus may be shared.
This is not traditional church but it is mission!
The Hub's strapline is not "our community our place" but "Your Community Your Place!"
This must have been tough for some church members initially.As Christians it is possible to treat church as our club rather than a community for God and others
Roger told us they made a number of rules when the Hub opened .I cant remember all of them but here are 3

  • They gave the building a neutral name in this case "The Hub "
  • They said community events took precedence over church events- After all they had another building for church stuff, like leaders meetings and church meetings, and they wanted  the community to feel this really was their building
  • They said no services for 6 months .They didn't want to brand the building as a church ,not because they were trying to hide who they are but because they wanted the community to feel they belonged.
As I say some church people must have found these things hard, but great credit to them for being willing to make sacrifices in order to connect with their local community.
The church attendance stats in the UK are not encouraging. However, I honestly think the opportunities have never been greater,  and with the passage of the forthcoming localism bill through parliament ,they could become greater still.

I am certainly not saying we would adopt Altrincham Baptist Churches rules for our new building but they do give us plenty to think about!
The key point is that the church is not a building,it is not an institution it is the people of God and if we are going to share the gospel we need to be where people are sharing Good News with them

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Church Weekend Away 2011

I am back from an excellent church weekend away at The Pioneer Centre,Cleobury Mortimer.

Roger and Lesley Sutton from Manchester were outstanding speakers on our theme of discipleship.I will blog more on the content of what they said another time, but for now I want to say a big thank you to them both for not only speaking passionately and thoughtfully but for taking time over coffee,lunch and at all other moments to get to know us.They were constantly available to chat with.This was greatly appreciated by everyone.

There is much more to time away than the talks.
We did archery ,indoor caving,raft building,we had children's parties games a quiz,early morning prayer, and late night chats over coffee.It was a lot of fun but there were of course tears as there always will be when deep friendships and authentic relationships are happening.We rejoiced with those that rejoiced and wept with those that wept.

We worshipped we prayed ,we shared communion we grew closer together.The youngest person who came is a few months old, the oldest in her nineties.Together with them we are building Christian community which hopefully will be attractive to others

There have been sad and even hard times in the past but many of us feel a deep joy in belonging to this Christian community at this hopeful and exciting time

As Roger and Lesley said this truly is a new day for us.

We rejoice and are glad!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Introvert or extrovert?

Found this an interesting read

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The building continues!

I spent the morning in various meetings about our new town centre building.To be honest I am not very good at this kind of thing, but I am passionate about it!
Over the years I have enjoyed planning and praying together.It is wonderful to see answered prayers and to look back and trace God's hand through this whole project.It is amazing to see vision by the grace of God begin to become bricks and mortar
By and large however building buildings is not what  excites me,(after all God does not live in buildings made by human hands) but how the building may be used to build The Kingdom.
Doors are slowly opening and we feel we are much closer now to discerning how this new building will be used to glorify God and proclaim Jesus

We did stop on the way to the second meeting to see a big crane had arrived on site and some massive steel girders had been put into place

Things are moving forward. The building is pretty much on schedule. The key for us as a church is to be spiritually prepared when the time comes for the building to open This new building like our existing one will be all about mission!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Rob Bell Love Wins- a few thoughts

I have just finished reading" Love Wins" Rob Bell's latest book that has stirred up huge debate among Christians
Plenty of people have written proper reviews so I won't attempt that but simply give a few impressions

  • It is  a small book to have caused such a big fuss.a mere 198 pages,it would have been even less if the type was not so spread out over the page, I guess to make it more visually attractive, and easier to read
  • Rob Bell is a very readable writer with a neat turn of phrase He is a good story teller ,not in my view as good as Max Lucado but still very good.
  • The book is full of quotations and stories from the Bible.It challenges our neatly worked out theologies and points us back to The Book and makes us consider afresh what some well known verses really mean-.that can only be good.
  • Love Wins is also full of questions. .Provocative questions, dozens of them ,forcing us to think, which since we are also to love God with our minds is surely not a bad thing!
  • The book contains wonderful and biblical statements about the amazing love of God.It really made me think again about the awesome strength of God's love for human beings. The message that God loves his creation so much that refuses to give up on us, forms the core of Bell’s book. 
Having said all that it appears, to me at least, that Rob has strayed beyond orthodox evangelical statements of faith and, if not into universalism, at least into pluralism,and I part company with his views at that point.
That is no reason not to get and read the book.
Rather than dismissing Rob Bell and "Love Wins" out of hand and in some case without reading the book  and even worse impugning his motives for writing the book as some leading  Christians have done,it is surely more profitable to engage with his arguments and above all wrestle with the Bible
 His critics may not be as good story tellers as Rob Bell but I suspect they would be better than him at disciplined exegesis of the Bible if they put their minds to it.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

The church and change Evangelism part 3

The Christian life is a journey.
It is a journey I have been travelling on for a few years
I have changed since that exciting day in 1973 when I became a Christian
I have changed since I first became a pastor in 1983
I have changed since I came back to Shropshire to pastor a church in 2004
It is for others to say whether the changes in me are improvements or not-Its possible some are and some are not. Who knows?
However when it comes to evangelism I am much more content and comfortable with my current position than I was in the past
In the past evangelism seemed to be tagged onto church life We were commanded to do it, we did it, we were not expected to enjoy it and on many occasions we didn't
I can remember the agony of thinking about who to ask to Mission 84 .The prayer the disappointment when my chosen "target " didn't come
As I wrote in my previous posts through the years I have increasingly seen the value of  deep relationships,of putting roots down in the local community I have seen that evangelism is not the task of the evangelist alone but of all the people of God...the whole church
What we have tried to do therefore is to give people the chance to make the easy invite and to get to know people in our community better and at the same time to bless them in Gods Name.We are nor unique in this in any way
To this end we have put on various curry night's Italian evenings,Harvest Brunches,afternoon teas unplugged evenings and Christmas brunches.
When we started these we worried not enough people would come ,now we worry too many will come which is a great problem to have.
What we still need to learn as a church is how to build on those relationships and to train and build confidence in our people so that in a natural ,unforced way they are encouraged to share their faith We need to learn that it is not our task so much to drag people to church but to be the church where we are.We are not called to do the church but to be the the church
My theolgy has been shaped by Alan Hirsch and above all Reggie McNeal who writes""the missional church is the people of God partnering with God in his redemptive mission in the world." The focus is on the world, not a full calendar of church activities that are exhausting, not equipping, God's people. " I do think there is a lot of truth in that!

This kind of evangelism is a natural sharing of Gods work in our lives that sees others not as targets for our next crusade or big event but as people made in Gods image who are loved by Him and who we should therefore love and seek to bless.

 As  John Wesley said

Do all the good you can, 
By all the means you can, 
In all the ways you can, 
In all the places you can, 
At all the times you can, 
To all the people you can, 
As long as ever you can. 

The Son of God became incarnate,he lived among us,he shared His life with us he brought us good news about God .Jesus is a great model for the church to follow!
Now there is nothing new in this
The question we as a church must wrestle prayerfully with is how can we bless the communities in which God has placed us?Of course that includes telling people Good News, but also being Good News for them.
It is a big challenge
I pray that both in the area  of our new  town centre building and in the Monkmoor area we and other Christians, will respond to Gods call and rise to that challenge

Friday, 18 March 2011

The church and change Evangelism 2 -Alpha

A large group of us went to an Alpha training course in Birmingham in 1994..I believe it was one of the first  held outside London.I remember Nicky Gumbel telling the shark joke which is one I have tediously repeated ever since!
Alpha's charismatic emphasis was never hidden and the training was excellent.In fact I found it a very powerful spiritual experience
In view of that it may seem strange that instead of running The Alpha Course we ran a course we had written ourselves called "Just Looking" in a local hotel in Ross on Wye. Less charismatic than the Alpha course  we still attracted good numbers and a number of people came to faith and were baptised.
Subsequently over many years  we have run Alpha courses in both the churches I have pastored and again we have seen people come to faith and be baptised .
In my experience what works about Alpha or indeed" Just Looking" is not the teaching as such but   the ability to talk about faith in a relaxed atmosphere with food ,where people can ask any question they like and know it will be taken seriously,
Above  all  this Alpha gives the opportunity  for relationships to  develop with people and through those relationships the love and message of Jesus can be shared. Alpha creates a space for people to talk about faith ,something that's not always easy to find in secular Britain in 2011
In my experience follow up works best where a group that have done the course together stay together in a small group
There are challenges but we certainly intend to keep using the course in the future
As I have stated above the thing that makes Alpha invaluable is the chance to build relationships with people who are not Christians. It really is all about relationships!I

The great danger for Baptist Churches with a membership structure Is that church becomes about the members rather than the gospel and people talk about the rights of members and the ultimate authority of the church meeting.It is possible for church to become little more than a cosy club rather than the people of God on mission!

The lessons we have learned from Alpha have helped us avoid that danger and have  been applied in recent years to the whole of  our church life. We have tried to share the life of individuals and the life of the local community ,to build relationships ,to put down deep roots locally, to be authentic,to recognise The Lordship of Christ .Alpha was, I  think, an important stepping stone on this road.
Then along came Reggie McNeal and Alan Hirsch who for me  at least demonstrate what missional church could be all about.. More about that next time..

Thursday, 17 March 2011

John Stott


Interesting article on a man I admire very much for his contribution to the gospel in the 20th century.
I heard him preach a few times and have read loads of his commentaries but know little about Stott the man so I must get this book

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The church and change Evangelism part 1

I became a Christian on the steps of St Martin in the Fields London on the stroke of midnight on New Years Day 1973.
I had gone there for a New Years open air party and met there two Australian Christians  and a guy from the UK who I remember was a lorry driver.They spoken to me about a personal relationship with Jesus and I accepted Him as my Saviour and nothing was ever the same again! That night we went to speak to homeless people about Jesus.
Having come to faith in such an unexpected and even dramatic way through the witness of Christians ,evangelism has always been important to me.

Crowd at Spree73
Initially I assumed all evangelism was personal evangelism but it  was not long before I went to Spree73(SPiritual Re-Emphasis 1973) to hear Billy Graham preach and if memory serves me right Johnny Cash sing at Wembley stadium.
I remember nothing of the content of the sermon but I do remember large numbers of people responding to the call to "come to the front and ask Jesus in your life"
It was my first taste of large scale evangelism and it appeared to be highly effective. In following years the same format was used by a number of evangelists including Luis Palau among others and as a a young pastor I remember taking coach loads to hear Billy Graham at Ashton Gate and Villa Park in 1984.Again large numbers responded to the call. Billy certainly made the  gospel message ,and the demands it makes, very clear indeed,though despite all attempts at  follow up of these new converts there appeared to be a very high drop out rate.
What Billy Graham did on a huge scale, we tried on a much  smaller scale with evangelistic events ranging from evangelistic talks to visiting American choirs and preachers. On different occasions both Louie Giglio and Steve Chalke came .The format was the same though,the church put on an event and people came to us.
These events had results ,some people came to faith, (though again the drop out rate was high),there was an increased confidence in the church about the gospel message and the change it could make to peoples lives and the very act of organising these events gave us a chance to work together for The Kingdom which is what true fellowship is all about
Meanwhile I was noticing many people who came to faith were not converted at one of these evangelistic events but through the day to day ministry of the church .Sometimes they sat in the pews (yes we still had them at that time!)for a couple of years before coming gradually to faith.It all seemed so different to my own conversion It was also clear from talking to these people that relationships with Christians had been a key part in coming. to faith!
Indeed relationships were to be a key part of the next big evangelistic activity we bought into ...The Alpha course, which I will blog on next time

to be continued!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The church and change 1

(from Ross Baptist Church website)

I have been a church leader for 28 years.
I can still remember my first Sunday as Associate Pastor at Ross on Wye Baptist Church.
The church had endured a painful split,during the early days of charismatic renewal
.A split which  divided Christians and also divided families ( I am delighted to say that since those days there has been complete healing of those broken relationships)
I remember being approached by a confident young man at the end of the evening service that day who told me" "I am surprised you have come here- God has laid aside this church!"
It was a fairly unnerving experience and happily subsequent events proved that despite being a very imperfect pastor trying to lead an imperfect church, God had not finished with the church yet and indeed the work continues to this day.
It would not be true to say I have loved every minute of church leadership.Some of the most painful moments of my life have happened in churches. There can be no doubt that some of it was my fault but I bear scars from those conflicts as do other church leaders.As I have been reminded the phrase "The church is for hurting people " is double edged!
However leading a church is for me an enormous priviledge  and a very enriching experience.There can be no greater joy than seeing God at work in peoples lives bringing them to faith,giving them peace and purpose,comfort in their sorrows,and watching them grow as Christians.
It goes without saying that the world has changed since 1983 in so many ways, and though the gospel never changes the way the church operates to bring that message of Jesus Christ into the world has had to change as well.

Interior of church 1979

I thought over the next week or two to write a few posts about some of the significant changes that have happened  in English churches  and the way they have impacted the church , its leadership,its ministry and mission.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Dr Helen Roseveare- songs of praise

I remember hearing Helen speak at a Glasgow University Christian Union meeting many years ago.
It was great to see her on Songs of Praise last night. Though is she is much older now her faith is as strong as ever
In the interview she underplays her suffering and her love for her Lord shines brightly through
Songs of Praise is at it's very best when it allows Christians to speak for themselves as it did last night.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Earthquake in Japan

I got back in from a walk this afternoon to hear the news of the devastating earthquake in Japan and the terrible loss of life there.As I write I hear that the death toll will almost certainly reach thousands.
I can't begin to imagine what these people are going through and the feelings of sheer terror and grief they must be feeling. As the BBC says a truly awful day for the people of Japan.Indeed given the scale of the tragedy that is surely a large understatement.
These days the news travels fast,indeed almost instantly, around the world
A surprising number of Christian bloggers have already posted on this,they call us to pray and I will certainly do that and I pass on that call to prayer
 I found the penelopepiscopal's reflective blog very moving, helpful and a great  encouragement to identify and to pray with all those affected .
As she says -Lord have mercy!

An interesting post on Rob Bells controversial new book

I will certainly get hold of the book, have a read and make my own mind up


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Behind the hoardings

It seems a long time since our old town centre building was hidden behind billboards and superficially it can appear that not much is happening.The appearance is very  misleading
 The contractors are on site every working day & lots of meetings  with builders, architects  and others are taking place to ensure that, when the new building is open, we have  the attractive, accessible ,flexible building we need in order to serve the the community as God has called us to do.
We are very keen to get away from the idea that the space the church building occupies is uniquely sacrosanct.As far as we are concerned the great gospel challenge therefore  is not to build the building but to build the Kingdom. The church is not there to serve the building, the building is there to serve the church and The Kingdom .
I feel passionate about this!

The ongoing task that the church leaders and others have been engaged on for some time is discerning through prayer and discussion what kind of ministries will happen in our new building.We hope to partner with other Christians in this venture and already have loads of exciting possibilities! As for which ones we will embark on;  watch this space!
Meanwhile Reggie McNeals words ring true

So, how do we do it? How do we the Church reach a world that doesn’t care about Sunday? 
First, we must understand that Church is a who, not a what; an organism, not an organization; a 
celebration, not an institution. The purpose of the Church is to  be a movement of God that 
introduces people to the King and His Kingdom? He intentionally calls a people to partner with Him to reach the world with His love and blessing. 
This is the purpose of the Church. We are called to be a people of blessing in the community 
where we live and beyond. Like Jesus the church is here to serve, not rule or seek privilege. When we act out being the people of God we will be a blessing and be blessed and God  will receive the Glory. This is our calling and  our mission: to glorify God by introducing Him to others (Matthew 28:16-20)

Missional Renaissance

Monday, 7 March 2011

Ministry of Women- NT Wright

I do enjoy reading and listening to NT Wright!
and on this occasion I agree with him for what it is worth!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Effective mission

Then along came AJ -A study in mission

Interesting study in effective mission
I am sure the principles still hold true today

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Senior Citizens of The Kingdom

Photo from Age Concern website

I went to a large sheltered housing complex in town today
The group of Christians there had kindly asked me to speak at their monthly service.I spoke from Marks gospel to about 16 people for about 40 minutes (well they said I could!)
A few impressions follow
I was encouraged and delighted by their enthusiasm. Some had been Christians for a long time and still keep up their church connections.For others that was more difficult and this monthly meeting had in effect become their church all appeared to enjoy looking at the Bible and some asked questions afterwards
I was impressed by the pastoral care they showed to one another.Some people who used to be in the residential home and come to the service have moved on to nursing homes.They were still remembered, ,prayed for and cared for.One lady felt this was a very specific ministry God had given her.
I was surprised that the people who came were all women.I know they live longer but I thought there might have been one or two men

Leaving that meeting I went back to our church building where First Tuesday (a work we do for mostly senior citizens) was going on,there were about 30 people present (many more men here) I stayed for a short while chatting
There is quite a culture of youth today. Reflecting on this mornings events reminded me how much older people have to contribute to our churches and how involved they are in the work of the church and the Kingdom
As I myself get older I hope God will give me the grace and energy some of these people have.The ones I met today were not living in some nostalgic past but seeking to serve God today!

They were seeking to do what we should all seek to do: Finish Well!