Saturday, 18 August 2012

New preaching series in the autumn on 1 Peter

Our summer series has been based on the Book of Daniel.
As we prepared for that series Steve and I have been reading Gerard Kelly's " Stretch".
It is not an exegesis but it brings out many of the great themes of the book ,especially those that are so relevant for us in the UK today. I mentioned it on this blog; here .
The series has been pretty well received though there is no doubt that many people still find it difficult to re-imagine church for post Christendom.
In the autumn we are going to be looking at 1 Peter which  also touches on the theme of a church in exile.
I think it is critical for the UK church to realise where we are now and how seriously the decline in numbers of those attending church is. This is a necessary first step to change and to re-engaging with a lost world (without compromising our faith in any way)
Over the last few years I have read slot of stuff by authors like Alan Hirsch,Alan Roxburgh,Mike Frost Reggie McNeal who seem to have a grip on where church is in the West and how we need to change to reconnect with our culture, for as someone says " If we keep doing things the way we have always done ,we will get the results we have always got"
Church stats show that those results are not great to put it mildly
Europe is the worlds most secular continent and while 72% of the UK population call themselves Christian only 1 person in 20 is in church on any given Sunday,and 70% of people have no intention of going to a church service ever ! (TEAR Fund survey 2007)
As part of the preparation for our autumn series I am reading Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmins see here.I have read quite a few of their books because they not only have a clear understanding of where the UK church is!(.In fact if you want to understand just how serious the situation is then read Chapter 1 of Everyday Church which gives a very concise summery of the statistics) and how it needs to change they are also practitioners working it out on the ground see here

There maybe people who think I bang this drum of the need for missional church  too often and too loudly but so serious is the situation that it is a message that in my view needs to be heard.
As Chester puts it " a farmer cannot blame his crops if he fails to sow and reap Sunday morning in church is the one place evangelism cannot take place for the lost are not there-not until we go out to connect with them where they are,where they feel comfortable ,on their territory.......the bedrock of mission will be ordinary life"

Monday, 13 August 2012

Flower Show weekend at Central

The Flower show is a big event in Shrewsbury.
People come from far and wide to see the flowers ,exhibits, stalls and events and listen to the music.
Our Central building is on one of the main routes to the show.
An obvious opportunitY ,therefore,for us to engage with our local community not only by being open for teas, coffee's and cakes, but by doing various things outside the building like giving people the chance to write on a wall the one thing they wanted to do before they die, ( we got some fascinating answers!)
 We  also did face painting , made balloons into animal shapes,and a whole lot of other stuff. Upstairs we held an art exhibition and discovered our versatile building works very well as a gallery among many other things

All these things were great fun and gave us the chance to meet loads of different people,listen to them,and also have some pretty deep and important spiritual conversations with people who we otherwise would not have met. I think the team who did it were tired but exhilarated
at the end of it all
A really good weekend was finished by meeting together on Sunday morning at Central for worship

This is not something we will do often on a Sunday morning at Central, but is was good to do  it yesterday
Worship was led by our young people's band which gave our worship band a bit of a rest and wefinished of by sharing lunch together
Not a restful weekend but an inspiring one!
Now looking forward to 3 days of Senior Moments starting Tuesday

Saturday, 11 August 2012

5 Things Team GB could teach Church UK -part 3

The importance of Innovation

There is no doubt that one reason Team GB has done so well is that great quantities of money has been poured into British sport.
Money alone though does not guarantee success,but it does pay for both great technology to aid performance and even more importantly for great coaches who use innovative method that improve training and the performance of talented athletes
Despite the popularity of Fresh Expressions I still hear (though less than I used to ,thank goodness) the last 8 words of a dying church " we have never done it that way before"
Society is changing rapidly.we are now in a post christendom era.
I know the Good News of Jesus does not change but the way we communicate that truth has to change
Regular readers of this blog know that I think Alan Hirsch,Mike Frost Reggie McNeal and the other proponents of the missional movement, have some really important, and thoroughly biblical, things to say about the ways we might change but before we even get to that point there needs to be a willingness to try new ways ( or as Hirsch would put it "The Forgotten Ways") I sense we are getting there slowly. I knew a church once where the average age of those who attended was getting higher and higher. Numbers were dropping rapidly and it became obvious, even to those most reluctant to change, that it was" a change now or die moment." That church eventually did embrace change and over time flourished.

Perhaps we are at a similiar moment in the life of ChurchUK?                                                                        

One final word on the olympics and the lessons we could learn.Everyone enetering the stadium was welcomed and made to feel at home.People were always on hand to answer questions and to make people feel at ease,that this was their games Perhaps  the church in the UK  could learn from that too!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

5 things Team GB could teach Church UK part 2

Olympic Park at night

The importance of Discipleship

Okay, Team GB don't use the word discipleship, but that in effect is what they do. I was listening to a radio interview when one of a pair of young gold medal winning rowers had said how inspirational it was to have the more experienced rowers to look up to "I learn from her all the time ,I listen to her ,I watch what she is doing and think if she can do it then so can I ".I heard another medal winning member of the cycling team say we have learned so much from watching Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton,from seeing how they do it and following them."  To me that is a pretty good description of discipleship in action.

I can think of some examples where that sort of learning takes place in church but probably not enough,
Too often young Christians with great potential are not given enough opportunity to use their gifts We are quite good in the UK church at giving people a great theological education and plenty of colleges of all kinds do that very is important that they do.
Do we though mentor people well enough ?Do we coach people well enough? do we simply expect young Christians with embryonic gifts but real potential ,to simply sink or swim?
There is no doubt young Christians have plenty to give ,and should have the opportunity,perhaps in a group setting, to learn from those who have been on the road a long time

The Importance of perseverance

It has been said that sport does not build character ,it reveals it.
Plenty of members of Team GB have big characters. There have been plenty of races where they have had to dig deep .There are times when it would have been easier
to quit rather than finish.
One of the first of the cycling events was the road race ,a tough, arduous ,hilly course .Bradley Wiggins was riding it in order to set up Mark Cavendish for a sprint to the finish .it was days after the Tour de France ,Bradley must have been exhausted. Miles before the end, it became evident he was not going to achieve his goal ;Bradley could have quit but he kept going to the end.
Perseverance is a very underrated Christian quality,it it is one Jesus demonstrates again and again in His ministry.He has a goal in sight,a task to fulfil, he keeps going to the end .He goes all the way to the cross,where he exclaims" it is finished." The task is done!
Many of us human beings have a gift for starting something but not finishing it.Like the apoostle Paul we should seek to finish the race.
I am much closer to the end of life than to the beginning.I am much closer to the end of ministry than to the beginning .God give me grace to finish well.

God give us all grace ,when the times are hard ,when criticism comes ,when people seem uncaring and apathetic to the message of God's love, to keep on going on as the Bible urges us to do.

To be continued

Monday, 6 August 2012

5 things Team GB could teach Church UK--part 1

Like most of the population I have been watching The Olympics and have been astonished by the skill of the athletes, and enjoyed the success of Team GB. It is all very different from when I was a child.
In those days  our usual return from an Olympics was about 18 medals in total, of which a mere handful would have been gold. Now as I write ,we are third in the medal table. 
There are various reasons for this upturn in our Olympic fortunes ,not least the money that has come from the lottery,which has enabled a huge investment in good coaches and great technology to help improve our athletes.They have responded brilliantly.
This year we have also had home advantage, and athlete after athlete, has testified just what a difference the crowd has made and how inspiring it is to run,or sail, or cycle with so many people supporting you.

I have been reflecting on the lessons the church in the UK could learn from Team GB and come up with 5 things  that I place in no particular order of importance. I will cover these over the next 2 or 3 posts.

The importance of being focussed.
 Olympic medallists are not just there for the ride (or the row or the swim)
They know what they want to achieve ,they have a goal in mind and pursue it with all their might.To that end they get up early ,they work long hours ,they put in the hard yards,they don't give up they stay focussed on the goal of Olympic glory
This is inspiring but it is not new ,the apostle Paul uses language in his letters that reveals athletes in his day showed the same determination
"I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us"
As I reflect on my life as a Christian  so far I can think of many instances when the focus of the church has not been the goal of our high calling, but on  rather more trivial things,like worship style ,music used in church ,the colour the walls should be painted, and what kind of furniture we have in our building. I understand that people feel passionate about these things (though not always why they feel passionate about these things!) but they can stop us keeping the main thing the main thing,and distract us from our major calling to love Jesus and others in His Name.
The Importance of Encouragement
As happens at most Olympics ,the nation has got behind the home team and  the team has said it has made a huge difference, that they have performed far better than they would have done otherwise. I heard a rower say it was the crowd that pulled them towards the finishing line.
One of my favourite bible characters is Barnabas who was a great encourager of the apostle Paul ,of John Mark , and of the first Gentile Christians among others..He is  a great role model and his encouragement made a practical and tangible difference to those he encouraged.They became better because of the encouragement
I am grateful for the encourager's I have met in the past and for those that sustain me today.
I would  not have gone into ministry without the encouragement of a pastor who believed in me I wouldn't have remained in ministry without the encouragement of friends and fellow leaders when things just seemed too hard
Too often Christians seek to exercise a ministry of discouragement, rather than encouragement, and because of this other Christians fail to reach their full potential.
I once heard Dick Lucas say that the greatest danger Christian leaders faced was discouragement.I think he is right but in fact the race can be tough the going can be difficult for all of us & we should all seek to be encourager's.It would make a huge difference as we saw spiritual gifts being released and people achieving great things by God's grace.

I will continue with this in the next post