Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Living the life

On another blog (eyesturnedoutward.com) Andy White has been reflecting on some obstacles to living an outward focused life. I wrote one post about misunderstanding as an obstacle. It's made me think about some of the issues surrounding living a life for and with Jesus as leader and forgiver, Lord and Saviour to use more traditional language.
I thought about this and began to wonder about the concept of holiness. I've always found holiness to rather like a bar of soap in the shower. The more tightly you try to grip it, the more likely it is to slip out of your hand. Sometimes it seems that the more you try to define holiness, the more it eludes you and you drift towards legalism as a solution.
So I'm not going to define it as anything more than living like Jesus lived, and that's where I see the hurdles appearing. How do we live like Jesus lived? How do we do what Jesus would do?
As a local church leader I get plenty of opportunities to see what happens when we don't manage to live like Jesus lived. And I'm not just talking about other people's lives I'm talking about my own life too.
This isn't a one size fits all solution, but I've noticed that sometimes the root issue is trying to live a double life. In other words we live like followers of Jesus when we're around other followers of Jesus, but we live like non-followers when we are with non-followers.
I remember Jim Packer saying: The problem with North American Protestantism is that it is 3,000 miles wide but only half and inch deep. The double life approach leads to shallow Christianity and shallow Christianity will not produce lasting fruit.
So I ask myself: How am I doing? Am I living like a follower of Jesus?
This isn't a complete programme, perhaps there isn't one. Maybe it isn't even a complete thought! But as a work-in-progress I wanted to think out loud for a moment.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The priority of serving

I'm reading, on and off, a book called Quick to listen Leaders by Dave Ping and Anne Clippard. I've mentioned it before when I blogged about the miracle question. Here's another quote:

The "barefoot pastor" [a name given to missionary pastors in India] name comes from the unique way they've found to multiply themselves. Once a leader establishes a church with more than twenty-five members, he selects a few of his disciples, usually ordinary villagers too poor to afford shoes, to become missionaries to the next village down the road. They walk to the next village and meet the people. Then they begin serving, sharing the story of Jesus, and praying until they have made enough converts to establish a church. When that church is ready, it sends its disciples on to the next village. (p41)

Hidden away in this description is one really key thought. There are times when have in the past defined evangelism as parts two and four of this process-the preaching and converting. We do pray, but don't often see service as a key aspect of outreach.

Last night I was at he members meeting of a church I serve as moderator. We got talking about one particular group that uses the church premises, that once was part of the ministry of the church, but is now run by folk from outside the church. There was talk about how to bring it back into the life of the church.

My solution? To get in there and win it back by serving. Rather than just a take-over bid, I believe that the way forward is through serving. As people experience the love of God as we serve them I believe that it will open doors to sharing the gospel.

I guess it's summed up in the concept of loving people into a relationship with God rather than trying to talk them into it.

The other thing that attracted my attention was the size at which the church was expected to multiply. Can you imagine most UK Christians being happy to send out missionaries when they reach 25 people? To most of us, we're not even sure we want to multiply our housegroup when it gets the 25 because won't that mean we'll no longer be together, and anyway, if not everybody comes there might only be 15 of us!

We have an opportunity coming our way in Cotton End that I think will challenge how we see church planting. To begin with small groups that can multiply quickly and move on to new areas may be key to our ability to impact the new housing developments that are coming our way. I know we're not going barefoot, and we probably won't walk too far, but we will serve and pray to earn the right to share the good news about Jesus.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Four Essentials

Having just posted a short entry about my dream, I thought I'd add what I'm calling the four essentials or the four non-negotiables of church life.

A Biblical Church

This is a church committed to the Bible as God's word, relevant and life changing today just as it has always been.

A Mission-involved Church

A church committed to reaching out to a lost or missing world with the good news of forgiveness and reconnection with God.

A Relational Church

A church committed to building positive relationships.

A Praying Church

We all believe that prayer is significant, we need to be 100% committed to pray.

The church of my dreams

Part of the process of putting big picture into small boxes for me is to dream. Some time ago a colleague sent me something that began We dream of a church... It was from a church in Texas, Irvine I think. Anyway it got me thinking, and for what it's worth this is my work-in-progress dream of church.

As I think about the future my dream, my vision is for a church that is actively meeting the needs of those within the church and those beyond the church.

I dream of a church with a wide diversity of ministries balanced between spiritual and practical (although I'm not trying to suggest that something spiritual is not practical or the other way around).

I dream of a church that is growing in a sustainable way and a church that is always thinking creatively about how it can touch the wider community through kindness and in service, and open the door to a clear and compelling invitation to respond to God's love shown through Jesus Christ.

I dream of a church that is willing to take Holy Spirit inspired risks in order to make a difference in the communities it serves.

I dream of a church of radical believers who live wholeheartedly for Jesus Christ and will do whatever it takes to drive back the kingdom of darkness and usher in the reign of Christ.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Jesus loves the church. Honest!

When we first came across a song the first line of which was Jesus loves the church, I thought it was a bit twee to say the least. But I then realised that the real struggle I had was with the truth behind the song. Jesus really does love the church. The struggle arises because there are times when I am not so inclined.

So I prayed, and asked God to help me love the people he loves, to love the church he loves and commit myself to the church as he has always done. It's a work in progress.

Here's a quote for fellow lovers:

There is nothing like the local church when it is working right. Its beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, the disillusioned. It breaks the chains of addiction, frees the oppressed, and offers belonging to the marginalized of this world. Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness... No other organization on earth is like the church. Nothing even comes close.

Bill Hybels Courageous Leadership

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Big pictures and small boxes

Since my confession about leadership in my last entry, I thought I ought to do some thinking about what makes leadership hard, at least for me. We are all wired in slightly different ways. As far as I know I am wired with an inclination towards a more visionary mindset than towards a management mindset. This has caused me some problems from time to time, mainly because I don’t see my role as a manager and others have seen it that way.

The difficulty comes when you try to translate the vision into a workable reality. To do this I have cone to the conclusion that I need to surround myself with people who are pioneers. Pioneers are the kind of people who can hear the dream and are willing and able to turn the dream into reality with the minimum of information. I always remember during my previous life in R&D for a big multinational company, taking a rough sketch of an idea for a piece of equipment to our engineers for fabrication. It was amazing to see this sketch turned into a real piece of kit by someone who could recognise my concept and make it work. With all the will in the world I could not have done that.

Of course not everyone is a pioneer. Some are settlers. Settlers are so important to the vision because without them there would be no food on the table. Settlers settle. They build farms and houses. They make sure everything runs as it should. Whilst the visionaries are off dreaming new dreams and the pioneers are out charting new courses, the settlers keep the garden under control.

Each of these groups needs a different amount of information to help them see what is going on around them. The pioneers are happy with the big picture, the settlers need the small boxes.

So here I am, trying to work out what goes in which box and how to package it so that everyone can get a piece of the picture that is manageable for them. It’s my heartfelt desire as a leader to help everyone get in on the action, to understand the important role that they play in fulfilling the bigger vision of our life together.

So I recognise that for me doing this work of translating vision into reality is hard, but I’ll do my best so that everyone around me has the chance to do what they do best for the glory of God. I’m off now to draw some big pictures and try to stuff them into some small boxes!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Being a leader

A confession: I find being a leader hard sometimes. There are days when leadership is the last thing I want to do with my life, but I know it's a core part of my call to ministry. So what do I do? Well I look for stuff that inspires me and motivates me to keep going. I'd like to think that I look for stuff that helps me improve, but then again I sometimes feel like Edward Bear in the opening paragraph of the Winnie The-Pooh story.

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think about it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn't.

Anyway, to get back to the question of leadership, I have on my wall opposite my desk a number of things. Photographs taken by my daughter Ally, the dates for Easter up to 2024, my personal mission statement and my ministerial recognition certificate just in case I forget who and what I am! There are other things and maybe I'll describe those in another post.

One of the things I have is an interesting one page description of leadership. I'm not sure where it came from, a website I think or an email newsletter of some sort, but I find it a helpful reminder of a few things. Here it is.

Effective leadership today is not about helping people find the answers they need; it's about asking the right questions in the right context at the right time. It is less about being a gladiator in control and more about being anirritatorr who asks thought-provoking and disturbing questions like Jesus often did.

Leadership is less about teaching specific skills; it's more about leaders being in close relationship with God, understanding their gifts and passions, then walking alongside others so they learn from the kind of person you are rather than from the things you say.

Leadership is less about setting vision, reaching goals, motivating, and inspiring others—important as these can be. Leadership is more about helping people create environments where they experience community with others and loving relationships that move everybody forward.

Leadership for a new era does not make sure that people are thoroughly trained before they are turned loose. The new model is on-the-job learning where the leader and everybody else is learning constantly and pouring their lives into others. The sooner people begin serving together, the sooner they experience God's presence and guidance in their lives.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Through the gates

Reflecting on the story of the five missionaries (Jim Elliot, Nate Saint et al) it's easy to think that their story sets the bar too high for our mission endeavours. I happen to see it somewhat differently. Personally, the simplicity of their whole-hearted commitment serves as a constant challenge.

I'm getting towards the end of the book now. I know what's coming, yet I still feel a strange emotional tug as I realise that as they spoke of their willingness to die to bring the gospel to an unreached people, this would indeed be the price they would all pay. They were not adventurers setting off on some exciting road trip. They knew the risks and they prepared for them as best they could.

The section of the book I've just finished included some of Roger Youderian's journal. For me it was deeply moving to read of his personal struggle with the value of what he was doing. He had decided that it was time for him to leave Ecuador because, as he put it, of a Failure to measure up as a missionary and get next to the people.

There are days when I feel the same about ministry, days when I sense a failure to measure up as a minister. To me it's comforting to know I'm not alone. Minister, missionary or just a follower of Jesus Christ, I guess none of us are far from these feelings of uselessness in the kingdom of God.

Had Roger Youderian decided to go home, he most certainly would not have found himself in the jungle seeking to extend the hand of friendship to the Auca, he would not have died that day in January 1956. But even through the darkest night of his soul he sought only to love God and follow him wholeheartedly. This surely is one bar that can never be described as set too high.