Tag Archives: Missional Church

A Call To Cultural Re-engagement – The Model

The results of the 2011 census were released this week for England and Wales, they revealed that 59.3% of the population claim Christianity as their religion. Although this has decreased since 2001 when it was 71.7%, it still represents a clear majority. The next largest religion was Muslims at 4.8% (up from 3.0% in 2001), representing a huge gap between the first and second most prominent religions. The number of people saying they have no religion has increased from 14.8% to 25.2% during the last 10 years. Clearly the nations’ beliefs are changing and the causes, implications and (Christian) response remain the subject of much discussion. Some have concluded that the data represents a pluralisation, more than a secularisation of the nation. It is also important not to look at the data in isolation and to differentiate between people’s behaviour, their sense of belonging, as well as their beliefs.

Whatever the reason for the change, in this post I want to suggest a model to understand the shift that has taken place and propose a model for re-engagement.

In broad terms, the UK in the mid 20th century was a country with the following characteristics:

  • Largely biblical foundations even if not everyone went to church
  • Generally accepted moral standards and ethics
  • These standards were largely uniform across society
  • They were strengthened by a strong nuclear family bond and community structures
  • Both private and public messages were largely pointing in the same (predominantly biblical) direction, thus, mutually reinforcing each other
  • The minister, surrounded by his church, were at the centre of the communityCultural distance_before

When we turn to 2012, the picture is completely different:

  • The church is largely ignored and the minister is often perceived as irrelevant
  • A disengaged society continues to push the church further away (especially in the media and political spheres)
  • Apart from a few exceptions, our voice in the public square has effectively been removed and whatever contact remains often becomes confrontational
  • The policies and laws are changing to reflect modern secular and pluralistic beliefs
  • The church struggles to engage and either focuses internally (and becomes a ghetto) or overcompensates and loses distinctiveness
  • Church members struggle to live in two opposing worlds, resulting in them sometimes compromising their beliefs, or separating their private beliefs and public lives
  • Nevertheless, at the grassroots some individuals and churches are re-engaging the community – whether that be in the urban or rural environment and/or within the family, workplace & church

Within this new societal order there is a line of engagement where Christianity and culture contact each other and interact – positively or negatively. As Christians in an increasingly anti-Christian society, we may ask ourselves the question “Are we persecuted?” No, not directly. But if we ask “Are we marginalised?” Yes! Definitely.  The easy response is to resort to unthinking jibes and insults that only act to reinforce the polar extremes.

Cultural distance_afterThe urgent question of the day is “How should we approach our increasingly anti-Christian culture?” Do we see our role (as the church and individuals) to be mainly against what is bad in culture? Is there anything we can affirm? How do we gain an opportunity to have our voice heard if we do want to affirm something? Do church leaders have a different role within society to their congregations? (I’ll specifically explore this in my next post).

So the question is: How will we respond? Is there anything those of us who spend 90% of our time amongst non-Christians in the workplace can do to influence our culture? As Bill Graham once said: “I believe one of the next great moves of God is going to be through the believers in the workplace”.

A Model for Re-engagement

Against this backdrop, Christians are responding in a number of ways to re-engage with those on the edges of their family, community, work and church circles. For some this is natural and easy, for others it is harder, and new mechanisms are sometimes needed to enable relationships to be built. For those in the business community the pressure to conform can be very high and the opportunities to engage in meaningful conversation are often few and far between. I believe the challenge to equip believers with a deep theology of work; teach them how to be exemplary employees; and know how to share their faith in the marketplace has largely been neglected by our churches. Nevertheless, some new structures have emerged and there are some examples of best practice in creating new organisational structures to allow gospel conversations to flourish. They are generally following a pattern of:

Affirm >> Connect >> Challenge

Affirm

  • Celebrate the good things in creation & culture (affirm the good, contribute to arts, professions, community life)
  • Seek the good of society & culture (contribute something tangible)
  • Build others up in areas of shared interest
  • Be good at what we do – excellence in our professions

Connect

  • Establish connections within culture (find our contact points)
  • Being purposefully & intentionally holistic in our serving – both helping and heralding
  • Loving and serving people holistically – word and action, not seeing them as a spiritual project or notching up conversions. Can we do both / and rather than either / or when it comes to word and action?
  • Not limiting our engagement to the purely spiritual arena – we will never engage with them by throwing verses over the chasm or through the silos.
  • Aim is to take the church to the people

Challenge

  • Where can we affirm culture and where must we challenge our culture?
  • How do we hold these both in tension?
  • Have we figured out our theology and response in areas we are challenging or do we react?

The goal is a rediscovery of a holistic faith, sometimes this will lead to new structures / models of church and para-church organisations in order to re-engage our society. The challenge we face is to create a generation of aware, engaged, holistic disciples in the workplace.

Some questions to consider:

  • Do you find this model helpful? Do you agree that this is the shift that has happened, or at least that it describes where we are heading?
  • What examples of good cultural engagement have you seen or been part of?
  • Where would you place yourself on the model?
  • If you spend most of your time within the circle of society, do you feel you are equipped to thrive in this environment? How could your church help you in the challenges and opportunities you face?
  • If you spend most of your time within the circle of church, what steps can you take to begin to connect with those around you, outside of the church? What changes might you need to make in order to affirm the culture around you? How can you better understand the challenges faced by those in your church within the society circle?

Let me know what you think…

A Call To Cultural Re-engagement – The 3 Silos

In our last post we considered how the way society thinks is changing. However, when we come to investigate why Christians have lost their voice and influence in society then the picture becomes even more stark. In the past the UK used to be a country that listened to, and even respected, Christian leaders as a voice of moral authority. This is no longer the case.  The structures within society do not lend themselves to helping us discuss the important issues of life and faith. Thus, this leaves us without a platform to defend or explain our position.

I see three main areas where these changes have occurred which mean that rather than being a city on a hill, we are now a city in a valley. We are hidden from society and our light is not shining as brightly because our platform, confidence and practice have been eroded. For each area I propose some ideas for how we can break out of our silos.

1. Erosion of Christian Structures

Many years ago Christianity was at the heart of the community. Everything happened either at the church, or through the church. Everyone knew the minister and the church had a dominant role in the life of individuals.  There were also strong community bonds that held influence over the behaviour and attitudes of the church and wider society. While not everyone liked the church or its leaders, they at least knew who they were and their opinion mattered within the local parish. However, there was undoubtably a nominalism and deadness to some of church life that sometimes put more importance on respectability and appearances than genuine faith and true piety.

In the past, we used to think we could just open the doors and people would come in, this is no longer the case. Secularisation has been one of the major causes of this change – diminishing the influence of the church as a public voice and removing it from the market place. Our place in the centre of society has gone, we are now on the periphery. New ways of establishing a presence in a secular nation and our communities must be found if we are to engage with our culture.

Breaking down the Silo: The only way we can break out of our silo is to establish living connections with those around us. We will have to balance the desire to share our faith, with the need to first listen to others. We need to first learn how to serve and love our community as an end in itself – to love it as God loves us, with no thought of what we will receive in return. For too long we have separated the word and deed – swinging to either extreme. Fortunately many churches are re-engaging in their community in various ways and many individuals are seeing the importance of establishing strong community connections. In the  business community and the arts, I see a vision among many for affirming what is good in society and building bridges. The task is to contribute something positive to society.

The challenge we must ask ourselves is: “Do we find ourselves only ever complaining or moaning about society? Do we find most of our time is spent with other Christians?” We need to learn how to affirm what is good; seek new ways to build connections with the community we live / work in and look to serve people holistically. If we do this, getting opportunities to share what is so important to us won’t be a problem.

2. Privitisation of Faith

We are constantly told that “It’s ok to believe what you want in the privacy of your own home, just don’t go forcing anyone else to believe in the tooth fairy”. Our lack of confidence means we retreat from engaging in public debates; we internalise our faith and it becomes private – not to be shared in public. A misrepresented view of science is used to support this pressure with prominent secularists claiming that “you cannot be logical, rational and have a faith”. This is made worse by the wide disagreement between Christians of how to understand scientific evidence and how this relates to biblical inspiration. We are divided and confused, so we stay silent.home-prison

Breaking down the Silo: I sometimes wonder if we have gone down a wrong alley by creating a space between apologetics and the gospel? Perhaps we see the gospel as the message about Jesus’ death and resurrection,  and apologetics about defending biblical inspiration, creation or explaining why there is suffering etc. This gives the impression they are two separate things, the former being essential, the latter optional. When our apologetics is weak or under threat we are tempted to retreat to focussing on the gospel. We then stick to communicating only these core themes, but they are detached from a broader meaning and context in society.

But does this fit with biblical patterns? In Acts 18 (in Athens) and 26 (before Agrippa) Paul takes the eternal truths of God’s saving plan and interweaves them with contemporary issues, values and culture through the backdrop of God’s redemption of mankind. There is no distinction between where apologetics starts and ends and the message about Jesus as Saviour and Judge starts and ends. We need to reclaim the pattern of communicating the gospel as: Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and return >> within God’s redemptive plan >> within the broader Christian worldview. Our message needs to touch on each of these three areas every time we communicate. This is how the new testament authors explained the eternal truth that they were communicating. In Acts 26.1 Paul uses the Greek word apologeomai when describing the act of declaring his message – not the content of the message itself.

3. Compartmentalising our Lives

Because of the pressure we feel from #2, we make our lives fit into various boxes of work; home; social; church. We create a spiritual / secular divide and have in our minds a view of what constitutes a spiritual activity (i.e. things done at church or supporting the work of the church) and social / secular activities (that have little, if any, spiritual value). We see the value of activities as they relate to our ability to either fund or directly engage in spiritual activities (as defined previously). The impact of this is that we live in different worlds, adapting to the expected behaviours and norms within each box. The increasing pressure to keep faith out of the workplace means that while we may try our best to live out our Christian principles in our workplace, we struggle to articulate our faith. It will also mean that we become desperate to spend our time in activities which we deem to be the best use of our limited time. Time spent in secular activity will become simply waiting time until we can “do something of eternal value”.

Breaking down the Silo: I was fascinated by this interview with Tim Keller, particularly the fourth question. I think many of us are guilty of saying we believe all callings are equally valid (that’s not to say they are all equal), while at the same time we still act as though some callings are more God-honouring than others. In a mark of true humility and honesty, Keller admits that he feels this tension. The only way to break out of this silo is to reclaim a biblical view of work, where whatever we do can and should be done for the Lord – an incredibly liberating and affirming position.

So the question is: “Are we constantly feeling that our time is being wasted, because we are not doing more spiritual work?” (that’s not to say we shouldn’t prioritise our time or set aside individuals to be devoted to preaching and prayer). And: “Are we intentionally cross-fertilising our boxes, at the right time, so that people see us in a different context?” Social media is a perfect tool to do this cross-fertilisation – “Are we using social media intentionally; who is listening or following you? Is it only people who think the same way as you do?”

Let me know your thoughts on these and other silos and how we can break out of them.

A Call to Cultural Re-engagement – The 3 Chasms

Cultural Distance in the UK

When I had more spare time, I used to lead many Alpha and Christianity Explored courses. The first talk on the Alpha course is always: ”Christianity: Boring, Untrue & Irrelevant?” In order to engage we need to first understand where people are. This talk seeks to engage the pre-conceptions and misunderstandings that people have in order to re-engage them with Christianity.

I believe Alpha’s first talk was true to the questions people were asking a few years ago, but now, I believe, UK society has moved further away. Let me say that I’m a big fan of both Alpha and CE and I have used them both many times in the past. However, I believe we have underestimated both the size of the gap between us and society and the depth of the problem. 

As I watch UK culture, I believe that religion is no longer seen as something misguided but benign, but rather something that is actually harmful to an enlightened society. The case is being made by prominent secular humanists, parts of the media and some political figures that religion is actually a source of corruption and a dumbing down of our natural intellect. It is explained as a vestigial coping mechanism that might have had a use in giving us a misguided comfort before science removed our need for false hope in gods and superstitious fear of ghouls. It is now redundant and primitive.

As I was thinking about these things, I was studying Acts 26 for a message and it hit me the difference between Paul standing before Agrippa and us standing before our society today. Standing before Agrippa Paul could rely on three levels of common ground – general revelation (nature / creation), special revelation (biblical revelation) and shared cultural values (those of the Jewish nation).

My proposition was that all these three have been removed in our day, so I titled my talk: “A Reasonable Faith: Christianity: Unscientific, Corrupt & Intolerant?” I believe these three areas describe the areas where society is questioning the integrity of the Christian faith. I recognise that it is a spectrum of views – not everyone is thinking like this, but many are and they are asking questions that we, on the whole are not answering.

  • Unscientific? We now face a credibility gap where science is seen to have provided the answers and we are holding onto out-dated ideas. It has removed the shared ground of General Revelation – a common understanding in our origins.
  • Corrupt? With the increasing confidence of authors such as Dan Brown and the decreasing biblical literacy, false information and inaccurate historical claims can easily sway public opinion. We now face a reliability gap when the historical reliability of the New Testament is assumed to be a matter of personal opinion. The church is thought to have re-interpreted or even edited earlier versions to suit their own political purposes. This has removed any remaining Special Revelation common ground, so that biblical authority is an oxymoron.
  • Intolerant? As the faithful believers continue to hold onto biblical truth and society’s moral standards diverge from these truths, our stance is seen as being intolerant of other positions. We now face a compassion gap, where we are seen as intolerant bigots for not allowing everyone a right to have their views accepted. This has eroded our common ground of Shared Cultural Values so that we can no longer assume or expect others to share or even understand our ethical views.

Do you agree that this is a fair assessment of where our society is at, or perhaps at least, the direction it is heading? If so, then the question we need to ask ourselves is whether we are bridging the chasms in our cultural engagement or throwing well-intentioned homilies into the abyss? If people really are thinking this way, how do we leap across the chasms to speak something meaningful to them?

Paul himself explained that God was the creator, sustainer and saviour of the world to the mainly Greek audience in Athens is a way that would engage their cultural antenna – referring to their poets and influential thinkers of the time (see Acts 17.22 and following). He explained the good news of Jesus using the language and concepts of the Athenians – sometimes seeking to build common ground, at other times directly challenging it. But the important thing is that he had clearly thought through the challenges and adapted his style to his different audiences. Have we thought through the challenges these chasms present and come to a position that we can articulate? Are we prepared to think the hard thoughts that possibly our current ways of communicating are simply lost across the chasm because we are assuming a common ground that no longer exists? These are the challenges that face us in engaging with our culture. Tools such as CE and Alpha are still vital as we live in a heterogeneous society with the remnants of a Christian heritage, but we cannot rely on a one-size-fits-all approach.

Or perhaps you are on the other side as you read this – an atheist, agnostic or you prefer not to label yourself. How do you see things from the other side of the chasm? Reach out and let me know. I’m listening.

14 Lessons from the Crucible

 14 Lessons from the crucible – walking with the Lord in the furnace of secular employment

Warning: I have written this in the pressure of intense work situation and am still working through some of the issues raised. It’s pretty raw, be patient with me if you are further along the path my brother or sister, I am just a beginner on this path asking questions. Also, forgive me if it’s more personal than my usual reflections, I believe we need to debate some of the issues I raise in a mature and godly manner, I am seeking to do just that in this piece. I welcome your comments and additions.

Let me cut to the chase: in my early 20s I thought I was going to be a missionary, in my late 20s and early 30s I became convinced I was being called to ministry of the word, thinking that the pastorate was ahead. In my mid to late 30s I have finally realised that God is wanting me to stop planning my future, but instead be his slave in the present, in this place, for his purpose. Whatever might happen in the future it is up to him to use me as he decides, whatever and wherever that might be.

As I grew up I imbibed the unspoken assumption that full-time vocational Christian ministry was God’s best for me, and for anyone else for that matter. I subconsciously, and sometimes consciously, sought to direct my life towards that goal. It was not hard to seek this path, as I have found this principle to be assumed and encouraged by the vast majority of our Christian books, sermons and teachers. However, at each stage of my life I have experienced the various means of God’s guidance to pull me back to the workplace.  Sometimes it was circumstances, sometimes it was a growing inner conviction that this was where God wanted me, sometimes it was the conversation with godly Christian friends and family. Yet, through it all, as I spent year after year in the workplace I still had the underlying assumption (and hope!) that one day, in some way, God would finally release me to serve him “fully” and glorify him more completely by devoting some, if not all, of my time to Christian ministry. This was particularly the case as I didn’t “feel” called to the workplace, rather the opposite, I felt called to ministry.

However, over the last 18 months the more I have tried to serve God the less time he has given me to do it. Or so I thought. I had to step back from responsibilities at church, reduce my preaching commitments and dedicate myself more fully, completely to my work. The little time I had left was given to trying to protect time for my wife and young family. I have not been there for friends, I have not been there for the prayer meetings nor the bible studies nor the evening service. I am only at church on Sunday mornings and I wait for them as an oasis of Shalom; the beauty and peace of fully dedicated time to be in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people. These times have become ever more precious to me.

So, last year I wrote what I was learning about ministry of the word within a mundane job.  How things have changed in 12 months! Now I am at the opposite extreme –responsibility, pressure, flat out and exhausted. I have finally started to realise that God has made me a certain way, for a certain purpose and that this is to do strategy and to preach the word. For these two things I exist on this planet.

Slowly, imperceptibly, God has broken this assumption in me. No longer do I see a spiritual vocational hierarchy when I look through God’s eyes. I see people, made in his image, with his variety of gifting and capability, made to serve him in a multitude of ways, across every vocation and discipline. I see those that have searched their heart and fulfilled their calling and those that are yet to find it. I now see that the most menial of tasks, done for the glory of God and in obedience to his call, can be the highest form of service that you or I can offer him (if that is his will for us). I know we say we believe this, but in reality do we?

Obedience is the key, it is the secret jewel of Christian usefulness and confidence. It is better to obey than sacrifice the ancients said and Jesus repeated. It is most blessed to obey – the most blessed path possible, wherever that obedience leads you.

Here are 14 things I have learnt and am continuing to learn, but before you read them please consider what I am not saying. I am not saying that “it doesn’t matter what you do, because all activity is equally worthy”. Neither am I saying that full-time Christian vocational ministry is not valid, needed, necessary and absolutely God’s best for many of us. I have too many pastors, pioneer missionaries and evangelists for friends to be unaware of the mighty responsibility and urgent need of this awesome calling. Don’t think I am wanting to swing the pendulum the other way and say we don’t need anyone full-time. What I am challenging is the assumption that this is always the best way for all of us (particularly those involved in word ministry) to serve him and other paths are second best. Perhaps you never had this assumption – praise God!

  1. Obedience is more important than any perceived increase or decrease in ministry effectiveness. For some the calling of God can actually mean they move away from opportunities for direct Christian service, for others it will be the opposite. We should not automatically equate either direction with increasing faithfulness, sacrifice or obedience. The meanest and most mundane work can be our most glorifying service when done as an offering to the Lord.
  2. For the many Christians, their highest calling will be the workplace and home. This should be recognised, affirmed and encouraged. They are as much called to their jobs and homes as the mission field. But it is not a competition between vocations – each in its uniqueness and splendour is treasured by God.
  3. The calling to the workplace is as valid, important and God-honouring as the calling to the pastorate or mission field. For some their highest calling will be to guard the theological strongholds, translate tribal languages and protect the flock from continuous attacks from without and within. But the calling to the workplace is not a lesser calling, or God’s second best. The workplace can lead to incredible usefulness in God’s hands – e.g. the construction supervisor Nehemiah, the civil servant and administrator Joseph, the beautician and model Esther, the government official Daniel, the politician William Wilberforce, among many others…
  4. My cross-cultural ministry begins on Monday morning and finishes on Friday evening. I am immersed in a pagan society all day every day, seeking to live counter-culturally without retreating into a ghetto or being weird in order to be noticed. Every religious habit or sacred ritual needs to be examined to see if its  essential or a cultural barrier. Every character trait is laid bare, examined and tested in real time by a watching world.
  5. The best way to glorify God with your life is whatever he has gifted and called us to do. For some this will be vocational Christian mission and ministry, for others it will be the workplace and home. Are we willing to spread wide the application of the challenge to glorify God with our lives? Are we prepared to affirm the calling of those who have little time to give to church meetings?
  6. The desire and gifting to do Christian ministry do not constitute, in themselves, a call.  I believe the internal call of God must be married with an external call from without. Both a calling to be his vessel and a calling to a location, resulting from the right doors opening at the right time.
  7. There is no spiritual vocation hierarchy. It is perhaps not said outright, but there is no doubting its presence – there are those in our churches who do ministry with a capital “M”, and then there are the rest of us. What does our definition of “ministry” include? Is it restricted to word ministry (preaching, teaching and evangelism) or maybe we also include service to the poor, sick and suffering (pastoral)? Yes, we also include those who serve as professionals abroad in some distant land. But, what if you see yourself as a professional in a cross-cultural, anti-Christian community in your homeland? Is that really ministry? Yes, some vocations require greater sacrifice and others bring greater earthly rewards, but through it all it is the obedience that is important not the activity. However, the majority of the application from Christian books and sermons gives the impression that working for the church or missions (either paid or voluntarily) is superior in God’s sight to working in secular employment. The impression is that service to God begins when one engages on church work in the evenings or weekends.
  8. Post-Christian countries like the UK will only be reached when this truth is finally believed by the church and impacts how it trains, equips and supports those in the workplace. This generation will only be reached when we intentionally present and affirm the workplace as a valid, important and glorifying to God vocation to our best young men and women – our most promising leaders. We will only affirm it if we really believe, not just say we believe it.
  9. For secular, anti-Christian cultures, bivocational ministry may actually the best possible model to reach society. I believe that being in full-time secular employment gives greater opportunity for cultural interpretation, insight and engagement than being in full-time Christian employment. New models for ministry training and church leadership are needed to reach, train and commission the next generation of church planters and leaders from those within the workplace.
  10. There is no such thing as “lay” ministry, no sacred / secular divide, no clergy / laity division. Yes, there is such a thing as people being appointed to a particular role and function within church leadership, nevertheless, uniting everyone is the priesthood of all believers and each believer is a holy temple called to their own role and place of influence.
  11. The role of a pastor is the absolute highest calling for pastors. The role of a teacher is the absolute highest calling for Christian teachers. The vital thing is to know for sure in our hearts that we are in the calling we are meant to be in.
  12. There has never been more expected of employees, more asked by employers and more penetration of people’s private lives by the pressure to always be “online”. The training, equipping and encouraging of leaders in the workplace has never been more difficult, with long hours, long commutes and little spare time. Yet few churches really see this as a vital ministry ground or are set up to support and affirm those in this position.
  13. The prayerful assessment of our true calling and our purposeful obedience no matter what the cost would overwhelm our mission agencies and pulpits with new candidates. There is a desperate need in our nation for the next generation of pastors. There remains an ever-present black abyss of millions of people who have never even heard the name Jesus all over the world. I am convinced that so few really examine their own calling that a wholehearted affirmation of the importance of all our callings would lead to a great increase in those stepping forward for pioneer missionary and pastoral leadership.
  14. We do not choose our calling – we only choose to fulfil it or not. Our calling may be a fulfilment of our (God-given) desires or it may be a restraining force on our desires – compelling us to submit to the Lord and follow him despite what we would like to do. Like David who desired to build God’s temple,  we can have good desires to serve God, but they don’t always mean we will see them fulfilled.

I say all this, not as a dispassionate observer, but as someone who has wrestled with their own calling for so many years. It was CT Studd, that great missionary who said: “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” What does our inner mind say to ourselves when we hear this? Is it only preaching, bible translating, pastoral visits, bible studies and evangelism that CT is talking about here? “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not men” was what the apostle Paul said. Are we brave enough to really believe that this includes ALL of life?

I have been a reluctant servant for so many years, wishing God would free me up to preach, when my time was being soaked up by work. I now see that I must obey his plans for me no matter how much my heart yearns for another path. I am serving him as he wants right now. I can either serve him fully where I am now, or continually fight against it.  I do believe one day that things will change, but I am no longer seeing the present as (only) “preparation” or a means to an end. I am resigned, submitted, my will is defeated, whatever path I am led on…I am his slave in the present, in this place, for his purpose.

Father, help us know the path you have for each one of your children, lead us on those straight paths and use us in whatever way you deem fit – not our will but your will be done. Remove our stubborness and pride and self-sufficiency. Make us truly humble and submissive to your Soverign will, for we know it is the best possible journey and leads to the most blessed destination – unity with our maker now and forever,  Amen.

What are your Core Values?

Many companies today talk about having Core Values, but few of them live them out. Our values describe the  principles that we live by – what we think are really important, what gets us out of bed in the mornings. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of what they are, but all of us have them. Sometimes we say our values are one thing, but the reality of our lives say something else. Our true values are those things that we devote ourselves to, that we give our energy towards and build our lives around.

Hearing about all these corporate Core Values got me thinking – what are my Core Values? Here’s what I jotted down:

  1. Excellence at work – an unrelenting commitment to doing the best that I can every day, pursuing the highest quality work in myself and those around me. Striving to be the absolute best at what I do and do more of what I am good at every day. 
  2. Depth in theology – plunging the depths of the richness of all time greats such as Calvin, Augustine, Luther, Edwards, CS Lewis & Francis Schaeffer and complementing this with an understanding of the modern theological landscape.
  3. Intimacy with Saviour – in the midst of the busyness and responsibilities, carving out a meaningful, devoted walk of passionate intimacy with Jesus Christ.
  4. Honouring my wife – to give her first honour and cherish the life we have been blessed with together. Honouring her in my mind, thoughts and actions.
  5. Investing in my kids – giving of myself, my time, energy, experience, love, wisdom & brokeness into the lives of the three little Links I’ve been given to mentor.
  6. Transparency with friends – building strong, deep, honest relationships with a few close friends, binding our lives together on a shared journey of parenthood, profession and ministry.
  7. Community living – deepening my roots in the community I live in, building relationships and seeking to bless those I live amongst in tangible ways.
  8. Immersed in culture – always having one eye and ear on the changing society in order to  understand where the guy and girl on the street is at, what their questions, concerns and beliefs are and how they are changing.

How these values express themselves will vary over my life, but these will remain the core of who I am. They form the ballast to keep me stable through the trials and stresses of life – bringing me back upright when the waves roll over me. Sometimes I lose my footing and stumble, but if I can focus on these, then the rest of life will take care of itself.

“Not that I have already obtained all this…but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead. I press on to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3.12-14

What are yours? Let me know…

Communities of Conviction

Last week I attended the annual Scottish Baptist Assembly in Dunfermline. I was asked by the SBLPA to review the third day of the conference, and here are my thoughts:

In many ways I came to my first Scottish Baptist Assembly as an outsider. Being born in Yorkshire, I am not Scottish, but have lived here for many years. Although I married a Scottish girl and have three Scottish children, I’ve never lost the accent. However, over the years I have felt an increasing burden for my adopted land and for the spiritual state of our nation and long to see God move in power again. Secondly, I’m not a Baptist minister, but am working full time in a secular role, trying to maintain a devoted life, whilst combining an often demanding job, with the needs of a young family, with my preaching and teaching ministry in my local church. However, as the son of a Baptist minister, and seeing close up the trials and tribulations the ministry entails, I believe I have a good insight into life in the ministry. Finally, although I have been very involved in Baptist churches for 20+ years (15 of those in Scotland), this was my first interaction with the Baptist Union. So, it was fascinating for me to attend the Assembly and understand more about the work of the Union in Scotland. 

By day three I was getting into the swing of things! My daily trips from Alyth to Dundee resembled my commute to work, except that I then picked up a friend for the journey to Dunfermline. Our hour long trips each way were precious times of refreshing as the two of us committed the day to God, enjoyed the beautiful scenery and shared what God is doing in our lives. It was a real a blessing for me have such company when I normally am rushing conversations over lunch, or during a bible study, or after a service. How many other kingdom conversations would be going on as others made their way to the Assembly from all over Scotland? It was clear to me that the Assembly is an important time for our ministers to be able to relax, be themselves away from the pressure of their local congregations and catch up with old friends. 

Once at the conference centre we finally managed to have a morning coffee with all the other delegates from our church and sit together for the morning session. The theme for the Saturday morning was the conviction of Mission. It began with a message by Stuart Blythe on Matthew 5.13-16, reminding us of the characteristics of salt and light. Salt and light by definition exist for the greater good – preserving and illuminating the environment in which they exist. Stuart’s challenge to us was: is that who we are? Do we seek the greater good of society, even of our enemies? We were reminded of the contributions to society made by both Joseph and Daniel – even to a pagan society that most of the time didn’t respect their beliefs. They are great examples for those of us who face jobs that place ever increasing demands on our time, energy and attention. Instant, ever-present communications, frequent job changes and subsequent relocations mean that the modern Daniels often have little time or opportunity to put down roots in our churches – I wonder if we know how to engage, equip and exhort them?

Following the message, Ian Randall led us in reflecting on some great missional thinkers of the past: Erasmus, John Bunyan, William Kiffin and William Carey. The challenge was to use our imagination in communication, poetry, literature and community in order to respond to the needs around us. Carey in particular was highlighted as seeking to bring both physical and spiritual freedom to those he was ministering to. Then followed a panel session with Newton Mearns Baptist Church and Business In Glasgow (BiG). Newton Mearns are providing their congregation with the space and time to engage in more relational events and meetings. The challenge was to allow our church body permission to do things that are primarily focussed on relationship building. It reminded me of when we decided to show football games on a big screen at Abbeyhill and had to decide whether to do an epilogue. In the end we didn’t and the aim was to build friendship and establish trust, which would lead to deepening relationships. However, if this is all we do then we become ineffective, but if we never do it at all we become irrelevant and disconnected from our community.

I was encouraged by the BiG team in Glasgow seeking to try new things to engage with the business community in this key city. Having been involved with Business Matters, a similar organisation in Edinburgh for many years I saw the value of this type of mission first hand. They ran a series of events and meetings, ranging from helping with redundancy and depression, through to a Business Alpha course in the city centre at lunchtime in a top hotel. This course was the perfect tool for reaching my work colleagues, as being held in a top hotel and at lunchtime, there was no excuse for them not to give it a try. The morning finished with an update from the Edinburgh missionary conference, 100 years after the first conference. In the afternoon Alan Donaldson gave his closing address and the Assembly finished with communion.

As we headed home I took with me the important role of the Union in enabling the Baptist churches in Scotland to be more than the sum of their parts, particularly in the key area of mission. These days, seeking a unique identity for Scottish Baptists may be challenging – we are communities of conviction, but there are many others who share our convictions. We should join with our evangelical brothers and sisters to promote the spread of the gospel in our land. Alongside this shared mission, the Union has a key role in calling each community back to the central truths of justification by faith, the exclusivity of Jesus Christ, the reliability of the scriptures and the eternal realities of the life to come. In an increasingly secular society, these are the essential truths that we must guard and which are the pressure points that really test our deepest convictions.

The Missional Church Part 4

Missional Church (part 4) – The Moving – Acts 6.1-15 (click here for word doc)

In this fourth and final study in our Missional Church series we look at how the early church dealt with internal and external challenges. Internally they were facing pressure on resources and externally severe persecution was coming soon. And yet through it all they grew rapidly under the blessing of God.

1.     What roles did both the leadership and congregation play in determining the solution to the Hellenistic widows’ difficulty (v1-6)? What responsibility did the leadership give to the congregation (v3)? How do we model this pattern in our church body and tradition?

2.     What is the result of the process the church leaders followed (v7)? How reliable are increasing numbers to indicate spiritual growth or wise decisions? What assumptions do we make when church attendance decreases?

3.     Jim stated that the key to overcoming problems is “a wise and united leadership and a fellowship facing in the same direction”.  How does good management enable the Spirit to work? For those of us working in the business world, do you think secular management practises are helpful or a hindrance in the church? What would you say to someone who said that “there is no sacred / secular divide – only good management practises and bad ones”?

4.     Jim reminded us that a growing church is sure to face problems. What problems do we face at the moment as believers? How can we see this as an opportunity? Do we need to re-organise our structures in order to respond to these challenges?

5.     The church leaders organised the church so they could focus on “prayer and the ministry of the word” v4. What is the breadth of meaning within the term “ministry of the word”? What other things do our leaders have to deal with today? How much do these things encroach on our leaders that distract them from these priorities? Is there anything we can do to release them to greater emphasis on these two?

6.     “In Christian work the frontline is the place of prayer”. Are we taking ground in the spiritual battle or have we been wounded? What are the barriers that prevent us from praying more? Who or what do we need to commit to pray for more faithfully?

7.     In this part of Acts we see that Stephen and Philip, although they were not apostles, have significant preaching ministries. They both saw themselves as ministers of the word. Do we see ourselves as receivers of the word, or ministers of the word? Who are we ministering to and are we intentional / deliberate in our ministry?

Jim’s key message for us was that “a well taught, united church, facing in the right direction is powerfully usable in the Holy Spirit”.  Spend a few moments thanking God for our progress so far and asking for his help in further growth in understanding, unity and devotion.

The Missional Church Part 3

Missional Church (part 3) – The Model Sending Church – Acts 13-15 (word doc available here)

In this third study in our Missional Church series we look at a model sending church in order to learn how it planted new churches and overcame the challenges that resulted.

1.     The key to being a spiritually influential sending church is to be “Spirit-led and Word-centred”.  Spend a few minutes summarising how this demonstrated itself practically in the Antioch church. How does it show itself in our lives and in the life of Central Baptist Church?

2.     The Antioch church had a number of gifted leaders, for them “it wasn’t a status thing, or a political thing, but a spiritual thing”. How would these different motivations reveal themselves in leaders? Are we intentional in our developing of leaders? How can we be more proactive in identifying and training godly new leaders?

3.     Jim reminded us that “if God entrusts a work to a church, that church needs to be tuned in”. How spirit-led are we in our daily lives? What would our prayer life reveal about how important we consider it to abide in Christ? Are we ready for God to entrust us with His mission?

4.     In Acts 15v5 a wrong understanding of the law (in the form of circumcision) threatens to wreck the new church. What are the false gospels that come against the true gospel in our day (Galatians 1v6-8)? How has the church, as a whole, responded to these challenges? Are we able to demonstrate the error of these false gospels from the bible?

5.     Jim warned us that “Satan’s strategy is to get God’s people fighting each other, rather than fighting him”. How does he manage to get us fighting each other? Is there anyone you are currently fighting against, in word or thought? Make a promise to yourself to speak to them before the end of the day.

6.     If our individual grasp of biblical doctrine is key to discerning truth from error and defending the true faith, why is it that so many see theology (the study of God) as dry and boring? How are we growing in our doctrinal understanding of the faith? What steps can we take to increase our understanding of Christian doctrine?

If a sending church needs to be Spirit-led and Word-centred then that means each of us, not just the leaders, must be replicating this pattern. In a world of competing demands and distractions it is the call to a deep-routed relationship with God that daily feeds off his word and listens to his Spirit. It is the call to engage in deliberate spiritual warfare for the cause of Christ. May God grant that we will be those who make the sacrifices required to develop such an intimate knowledge for the greater reward of sharing in his kingdom work.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the Devil’s schemes…Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” Ephesians 6.10-18

The Missional Church Part 2

Missional Church (part 2) – The Mindset – Acts 17.16-33

For Central Baptist Church House Groups on the 29th September (for Word doc, click here)

In this second study in our Missional Church series we turn to the mindset required as we engage in church planting. Paul exemplified this mindset in his cross-cultural evangelism – willing to be flexible on every, and any, non-essential, but completely rock-solid on the core truths of the gospel.

1.     Jim stated that central to a missional mindset is the ability to “observe, absorb and feel” – if you have time before the house group, spend an hour in the city centre observing and praying over the people walking by. Pray that God would give us compassion for the crowds as Jesus had (Matthew 9.36). Share some of your reflections on this experience with the group. Which of these three verbs do we prayerfully need to work on the most?

2.     Paul’s Athenian sermon is a great example of communicating in a language our hearers understand. What points of contact does Paul use to draw in the crowd? When does the tension arise? What is the key teaching that they cannot accept?

3.     Paul uses contemporary culture to build bridges to his hearers (see v 22,23 & 28). How can we use literature, media and conversations to understand people and listen to our culture? What messages do we hear? Spend some time sharing thoughts on how you could introduce & explain the gospel, beginning from areas of common ground (e.g. a song, book, movie or news story).

4.     What are the main themes that Paul touches on in his message? How does Paul communicate the gospel? What aspects of God’s character does Paul focus on?  How does he introduce sin, repentance and judgement?

5.     Jim said “God has to do something in us, before he can do something through us.” What is God’s final objective in all His work in us (Romans 8.28-30, Hebrews 12.7-11)? How is that sometimes different from our objectives in life? Share an experience of when God has broken you in order to shape you.

6.     Jim said one of the key things church planters need is “being prepared to take a hit” – have we taken a hit recently in our gospel witness? What are the points of tension with our society? Do you feel prepared to answer the objections? How can we gain a hearing for our response?

7.     Jim stated that “the vast majority of our city do not worship the one true God revealed in Jesus Christ, and so numb have we become to that that we accept it as the norm.” Is this true for us? If so, what are we prepared to do for them? Are ready to enter the harvest field?

Paul’s missional mindset meant that, as well as adopting the style of his preaching to his hearers, he also accommodated his lifestyle, as much as he was able, to those he was witnessing to. While holding the central truths of the gospel with an unshakeable grip, he used every means possible to bring his message to life. This required a high level of maturity where he was able to distinguish the essential from the peripheral. May God grant that we also would be empowered with the same passion for being soul winners and see many in our homes, work and community come to know the only Saviour.

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…To the weak I become weak to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings. 1 Cor 9.19-23

The Missional Church Part 1

Missional Church (pt 1) – The Message – Matthew 28v16-20.

(For CBC house groups on 15th Sep 2010 – for word doc download click here)

In this first of four studies centred on the theme of church planting, we look at Jesus’ message to his disciples – his mission statement for the worldwide church to pursue until he comes back. This message is to be the beating heart of every local church, an unending commission that calls the church to the task of world evangelisation supported by local training; of pioneer missionary endeavour combined with feeding the flock.

1.     What comes to mind when you think of church planting? Spend a few moments in the group sharing experiences of those who have been involved in church planting in the UK and abroad. What have we learnt from our experiences?

2.     The authority and presence of the Lord are the two bookends to the Great Commission. How do these two aspects of Jesus’ reign impact our approach to outreach and discipleship? How does the enemy seek to undermine our confidence in both these areas?

3.     Jim reminded us that the great need in Scotland is for “proclamation allied to planting”. What would you say is the greatest priority for the church to focus on in order to further this goal? How do our local church and denominational structures support or hinder this goal?

4.     Jim said “the church that gives, lives” – how does the example of the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 4.32-35) and Antioch (Acts 13.1-3) inspire us to undertake this challenge? How did these churches receive blessing for their obedience?

5.     Jim argued that we cannot separate the task of growing the local church from mission. What happens to a church when they are separated? What do we need to change in our individual and corporate lives to re-unite these two?

6.     Jesus was the watershed in turning God’s kingdom message from “Come” (to the temple) to “Go” (into all the world). What has replaced the temple in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 3.16-17)? Does this perspective help us overcome the attacks we mentioned in question 2b?

7.     Someone once asked the question “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once.” How would you answer this in the light of our discussion tonight? What would you say to someone who thought that “mission” only happened overseas? How can we be more effective in reaching those who have never heard in Dundee and beyond?

As the church grows, it is inevitable that it will expand into new territories and people groups. Jesus’ vision for the growth of the church across the entire world is to be like the strawberry plant – sending out runners into new areas, supported and upheld from the sending plant until it is ready to put down its own roots and send out runners from this new base. This view of the great commission helps to overcome the barriers we sometimes place between church ministry and world mission. We desperately need those (like Paul) with a burning ambition to preach Christ where He is not known (Romans 15.20) but, for a lasting impact, these pioneer missionaries must be followed by those who (like Apollos) have a heart for training and discipleship (1 Corinthians 3.6). Spend a few moments reflecting on where God would have us contribute most effectively to the extension of His kingdom.