Leadership in the Wilderness: Am I willing to uncover what I’ve previously tried to bury?

This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.” When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.  Exodus 2:11-15

If you’ve read my previous episode, rooted in Moses and the burning bush, you’ll realise I’ve gone back in time. The journey back to the future however, has been essential in my life on occasions as it was for Moses and maybe yours? Although only one chapter, it represents forty years of Moses’ life. [1]

We’re all in this thing called ‘Ministry’, I may have been involved for many years, but then something pops up from the past, my past. What I do next is crucial. It never changes the past, but it has the potential to transform my future and also impact my present. What I’m always tempted to do is … anything, which avoids digging up what I thought had been buried, with time, with layer upon layer of avoidance, barriers of defensiveness, or just using the easiest excuse in my repertoire: ‘I’m too busy’!

Moses life falls neatly into three equal sections. He lived to be 120 years old (Dt. 34:7); the first 40 years of his life were spent in Egypt, learning first from his mother about God (12 years) and then learning from Pharaoh the skills needed to run Egypt. This particular episode in Exodus 2 takes place when he’s 40 years old. There’s a lot going on here, not least I imagine, in Moses heart and mind. Charles Swindoll called this episode, ‘God’s will, my way’ and that’s something I can identify with rather too much. [2] Moses then spends another 40 years working as a shepherd for Jethro in Midian. God needed to teach Moses patience and trust. It’s not until he’s 80 God calls him specifically to return to Egypt to free the people of God from slavery. The period in-between, (‘wandering in the wilderness’ and/or ‘en route to the Promised Land’) marks the third slice of 40 years.

One thing I do enjoy about reading Moses life is I feel relatively young, after all, I’m only 62! Other elements are scarier … I’d been leading churches for 14 years before I was 40 … before Moses had learnt patience, trust, or what Hudson Taylor spoke of: ‘God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply’ … before I’d learnt too many things to highlight here!

When the pandemic hit, in the aftermath of the panic to get online whatever we’d been doing offline, it was clear to me the virus was revealing, not creating, reality. Some of us thrived. Some of us love a crisis. Some of us simply went up a gear. Some of us were paralysed. Some of us dived for cover. I love the way someone put it early on, it’s as if ‘God has pulled back the curtain on our reality. (I wish I’d thought of that one first!) However, my question today almost a year on is not simply, how did I respond then, but also where am I now?

I remember a conversation with Ray Brown, who was Principal of Spurgeon’s College, the very first week I began studying there. He’d wanted to have a conversation with me about a mutual friend who’d left Baptist Ministry and almost split the church in the process. I came away thinking and committing myself to learning from other people’s mistakes, so I didn’t need to make them myself. Ray Brown taught me so much, not solely from his preaching and lectures, mainly from how he spoke and his posture. I’m still trying to learn, not simply from my own mistakes. I’d encourage everyone to do the same. The leader in the church down the road from you won’t get everything right first time, so remember that the next time you’re tempted to simply duplicate what appears to be working well for them. Use their experience as your experiment. It’s easier to notice anyone else’s reality, than our own, but don’t stop there, take a look. Look and learn.

Whilst there’s something to be gained from the above approach, it will never genuinely nurture your own growth in leadership unless you act on what you think they’ve got wrong (more often you think you could do better) yourself. After all, I can watch Liverpool playing football and, as I do frequently, shout at various players, deplore missed opportunities and goal scoring chances, but have never come anywhere near their performance levels myself, even when I thought I was a half-decent player. Leadership is a series of behaviours rather than a role for heroes or a place for spectators.

That idea is so fantastic. Stop talking about it and do it. Simon Sinek from Together is Better (with pictures!)

The virus has revealed the lack of fruitful evangelism, as well as the shallowness of our discipleship across the UK church. Our realities have become clearer than ever. When we’re leading a larger church our realities can become less obvious. We have, by definition, more people around than most churches (across the Baptist union for example, there’s only around 100 out of 1900 churches who have a formal membership over 180 people). What’s the biggest reality the virus has revealed to you?

It’s easy when we see our buildings full to overflowing on a Sunday, to make assumptions everyone who turns up is growing in their lives ‘in Christ’, pursuing the mission of God wherever they’re placed during the week and demonstrating the fruit of the spirit in all their relationships. But as the number of ‘views’ to our sermons and services on YouTube, or ‘likes’ on Facebook, have slid over the year, many of our assumptions have been shattered. It may be a harsh reality, but we’ve had to face it nonetheless: there’s more to someone growing in faith than turning up in a church building on a Sunday morning, even though they might express their worship with all their hearts and take notes during my sermon!

In my experience, the crowd and the filled or too few empty seats, were amongst my major obstacles in helping see the need for other people to come to know Jesus and receive his salvation. It was almost as if people’s eyes glazed over and a screen came down with the words ‘job done’. I used to work against the idea that the larger the church, the fewer proportion of new people come to faith. Sadly, although I’m yet to do enough research to be sure, it still appears to be the case. We may look like we’re growing in size, we may be accepting new members, but take a closer look at how many people you need per annum, to reproduce one new follower of Jesus.

You may or may not be aware of the wonderful children’s book ‘The Lost Words’ by Jackie Morris and Robert McFarlane. It’s addressing the fact  ‘there are words disappearing from children’s lives. These are the words of the natural world; Dandelion, Otter, Bramble and Acorn, all gone’. Today I infrequently hear, when listening to preaching, reading church mission/purpose/values statements, or general church communications some words, such as ‘sin’ and ‘salvation’. When I take a look at church websites or those of Christian organisations, I’d love to see the words such as ‘Jesus’, or ‘forgiveness’, or ‘obedience’ a lot more than I do. None of them, of course, politically correct. I’m up for finding language which communicates in any culture, but we need to ensure we’re communicating the same gospel, don’t we? It’s worth checking out your own communications, just to ensure you’ve not made too many assumptions.

What’s your leadership based on? I’m looking to help as many leaders as I can to take a step up, but I know we all need to take stock of what we’re standing on. Take a look, if you’ve not already done so, at John Maxwell, ‘5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximise Your Potential’, and Jim Collins, ‘Good to Great’, where he introduces his version of ‘Level 5 Leadership’. Whatever we think about the words and the language they use, my hunch is all of us know there’s another step we could/need to take, if we’re to fulfil our potential. Some of us may well have already discovered that’s not something, which happens automatically if you simply move church. One of the biggest lessons I’ve tried to take on board from John Maxwell is, ‘you can move up a level, but you never leave the previous one behind’. Once you’ve built relationships with people for example, and move to a higher level, do you abandon or neglect those relationships? As John Maxwell says, ‘you’d better not! If you do, you’ll find yourself back down at level 1 again’. I remember talking to one leader about their first day as the new Senior Pastor of one of our churches. They sat there in the church office, almost in awe of ‘having arrived’ and then wondered ‘what is there for me to do? There appeared to be a team with a team leader for everything I’d previously had to take responsibility for’. I won’t tell you what happened next, but to neglect anything on the basis we’ve moved beyond it, is akin to walking out on the lake near where I live, where there was ice which would hold your weight around the edge, but it didn’t go far across the deep.

Maybe, like me, you’ve often heard it suggested Baptist leaders are defined by what we stand against. The origins of such statements have neither a biblical nor historical basis (our Baptist origins arise out of obedience to God’s word and the recognition Jesus Christ is Lord). However, any leader who pays more attention to commenting on other leaders, whether they be spiritual, or political, than to their own leadership integrity and development, will risk contributing to a poor reputation.

Moses tried to do what his gut told him was God’s will and purpose, but in his own way. He tried to take the lead, but when we are called by God, our job is to follow. Jesus made no mistake in choosing his words: ‘Come, follow me’. Only this morning I had to pray about something: Lord, search my heart and show me where I need to repent, if I need to be re-aligned with you. I don’t want to do this, but I believe you are calling me. Lord, I don’t to be alone, but if I stand alone, I know you are with me.

Going back to the future, going back to look again. Returning to the scene, not so much ‘of the crime’, but the sin … to the place where I took my own way, diversion or short-cut has been painful. However, when I look ahead and I see Jesus out there in front, it’s the only way I can get going again, pursuing the mission of God in and through my life.

[1] Acts 7:23

[2] Moses. A Man of Selfless Dedication. Charles Swindoll.

 

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Leadership in the Wilderness: Am I willing to pay attention to what I’ve previously avoided?

This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.  So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” Exodus 3:1-3

These are the verses which stopped me in my tracks. I’ve been dwelling in the Bible passages which relate the story of Moses for a few weeks and I’ve become captivated by the need to pay attention to whatever and wherever it is, where the presence of God is (just as in this episode of Moses’s life) ‘on fire’. That’s what I want to put my best energies into because as Moses recognised, ‘the bush does not burn up’.

When we entered the first lockdown of 2020 my primary question was ‘Lord, what is it I need to see and hear from you?’ Well, the Lord has spoken and revealed himself above and beyond my prayer on the global stage. It’s not been so loud and clear for everyone to hear and see, but as in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation: whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

The virus has revealed the reality. The reality of the nature of my/our relationship with the Lord either as churches, leadership teams or individual leaders. The curtain has been pulled back. From my perspective the church in the UK was deep in crisis before we’d heard of Covid-19, in terms of Christ-like leadership, authentic discipleship as well as fruitful mission. At the beginning of 2020, the beginning of a new decade, I wrote:

My sense, at the beginning of this decade, is we’re headed for some significant challenges. As Baptists our faithfulness to Jesus Christ as Lord will be tested in ways we have not seen for a long time. We face a crisis. This is not a warning we shall, but a recognition we are in crisis.

  • A crisis of leadership: we are not developing sufficient numbers of missional leaders to meet the need
  • A crisis of discipleship: the shallowness of our distinctiveness as followers of Jesus Christ is a deep concern
  • A crisis of mission: our confidence in the gospel is a reflection of our confidence in God and it doesn’t appear to be very high

To be perfectly honest, most people didn’t want to hear. I don’t recall anyone disputing any of my three areas of concern, but that’s not the same as hearing is it? That’s being polite, simply waiting for the next, hopefully more positive conversation. Those who did hear or could see clearly with their own eyes, were mostly similar to me, feeling paralysed, wondering what on earth could I do about it? But what about now? The pandemic has thrust us into a place where I tend to think the reality of all three are in plain sight, or are they?

At the turn of this year, I found myself reading the story of Moses again. Honestly, I felt I’d read/experienced enough about ‘wilderness’ during 2020, so I was either a sucker for punishment or desperate!

I also read alongside my Bible, ‘Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership. Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry’ by Ruth Haley Barton. She uses aspects of the life of Moses to illustrate what she describes as a book ‘about the soul – your soul, my soul and the soul of our leadership’. She quotes Gordon Cosby, who said, ‘when a local church loses its soul it begins to slip into mediocrity and is unable to give life’. [1]

The pandemic has revealed what deep down we already knew – there are too many mediocre churches out there. The deep, nagging concern is whether this is a symptom of too many mediocre Ministers, whether they be, like me ‘regional’, or ‘local’.

Looking closer at Moses has given me a growing list of questions. Top of the list is:  Am I willing to pay attention to what I’ve previously avoided?

I thought I’d already answered this one, but it turned out I’d not looked carefully or sufficiently enough. What was it I particularly needed to pay attention to? The One, True, Living, God grabbed Moses’s attention with a burning bush. With me, it was the state of the church. What is it for you?

Moses didn’t simply glance, he stopped and went over to examine what he had seen. Moses was willing to be changed by God and allow his life to be re-aligned by Him.

The ‘strange sight’, Moses was confronted with was outside his experience: how can a bush on fire not burn up? What’s your experience? My sense is too much of what I’m seeing in the church contains too much of the world. I’m all for being contextually relevant in terms of style and presentation, but the cultures of this world are often in conflict with the culture of the kingdom of God. Mark Sayers puts it like this:

‘Post-Christianity is not pre-Christianity; rather post-Christianity attempts to move beyond Christianity, whilst simultaneously feasting upon its fruit. Post-Christian culture attempts to retain the solace of faith, whilst gutting it of the costs, commitments, and restraints that the gospel places upon the individual will. Post-Christianity intuitively yearns for the justice and shalom of the kingdom, whilst defending the reign of the individual will. Post-Christianity is Christianity emptied of its content’. [2]

I’ve had to come face-to-face with something I’ve always known since I first encountered Jesus Christ, but had shoved closer to theory/theology, pushed away from practice/rootedness: without God, I am nothing. The big priority for my prayers right now is Lord without you, we’re done for. What will still be standing after the shaking? We are being shaken and my sense is the Lord is in the shaking and looking for our response. We have shifted authority to a gospel of self, in which the individual seeks to power their own development and salvation. That fits the government’s agenda, but it’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What about you? When God pressed the pause button what did you do?

No time to stop and think? It felt like that was the response I was being given by most leaders I talked with during the first phase, following the pandemic hitting our shores. Many of us felt everyone was looking to us to lead them through the crisis. And what do we do in that situation? We perform. Generally speaking, we’re all able to perform under pressure. I used to smile (only inwardly) when listening to a colleague leading a church who was ‘struggling with a couple whose marriage is in crisis’. What I wanted to say was ‘only one! That sounds more like you’re leading a holiday camp’! What if it is just that, however, a performance without substance?

During our experience of the pandemic here in the UK, I’ve seen many wonderful examples of heroic servanthood and I don’t want to ignore the green shoots of the kingdom I see springing up in the most unlikely of places. Yet I also see a handing over of God’s agenda into the hands of the government, the NHS, or social services.

The big themes of 2020, in the midst of the pandemic have been: the environment (remember March-April when people heard birdsong, which had always been around, again?); mental wellbeing (I’m all for it, yet ‘the peace of Christ, which passes all human understanding’ has the biggest impact on anyone’s life); human relationships (isolation, touch, proximity, support, an endless list of news and TV hours have been devoted to this). These are all vitally important, don’t get me wrong; they are potential signposts towards the kingdom of God, but they are not the kingdom itself. The biggest challenge of the pandemic remains the reality of death. For the first and only time in our lifetimes a subject, which the church of Jesus Christ has the answer to, has been the top item of news for almost a year now. It’s churches who don’t burn up, in-spite of everything, which reveal the presence of God. It’s leaders, like you, who create the culture which makes churches like that.

“Leaders create culture. Culture drives behaviour. Behaviour produces results.” (Edgar Schein). Edgar Schein is an expert in organisational management, but Damien Hughes, the Sports Psychologist who wrote The Barcelona Way about the winning culture of Barcelona Football Club, says the same thing. Damien Hughes talks about a ‘commitment culture’ being the essence of Barca’s success and ‘commitment’ is a word we’re danger of losing from the UK church. Whatever else disciples of Jesus are however, they are committed to pursuing him, whatever.

I see the need for the renewal of the Church, but I need to be willing to offer myself, wholly and sacrificially. Pay attention! Unless I’m aligned with the purposes of God, I cannot continue to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God and anticipate fruitful responses, which look like the life of Jesus. Jesus didn’t do or say anything which he wasn’t wanting to see reproduced in the life of the person in front of him.

 

[1] Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton, p13.

[2] Disappearing Church: From Cultural relevance to Gospel Resilience’, Mark Sayers, p15.

 

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Further, Faster … Or Fewer, Deeper?

This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two

My life during this pandemic has been like living on a pendulum. Challenges and opportunities, losses and gains, sorrows and joys. It’s neither one thing nor the other for long. I know I’m not alone, but hopefully the balance for you is tipping in the right direction.

One thing I either regret not having so much of or am glad it’s hardly present varies from day to day and that is the amount of time I spend in the car on my own. Since March I don’t miss the average of around twelve hours a week spent driving from person to person or team to team. However, I do miss the oasis of time it provided; to think, pray and listen to music and podcasts. It’s the lost listening time I’m yet to adequately find an answer to. One of my favourite podcasts is the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast. The tagline he uses is ‘conversations to help you go further, faster’. That’s me, I want to go further, faster. However, the lessons I’m learning from following Jesus right now are more akin to ‘fewer, deeper’. My reflection, from numerous recent conversations with other Christian leaders is we’re so addicted to ‘further, faster’, we don’t know how to step off that particular treadmill.

The virus has pulled the rug from underneath us, so if our leadership has been too reliant on people feeding into our need to be affirmed in our strengths (which have often revolved around up-front-performance in preaching & one-to-one ‘likes’ from pastoral care), then we’ll be questioning why we are here leading a church. The virus has been challenging where our personal identity and security really lie, or is our problem the virus is revealing our realities?

For me, when circumstances begin to reveal my weaknesses to the point they start pricking at my awareness bubble, I invest even more energy into that, which is becoming more and more obvious, is not working. A simple example, which has acted like a mirror for me is my MacBook. For some reason my storage capacity has been getting less and less. I’ve deleted as many things as I can, but it seems as though data breeds like a virus on my laptop, so no sooner do I delete files, they appear to breed, until I get the dreaded message ‘you do not have enough memory to remain online, Outlook is shutting down’. Even I was shocked to just check my diary – it was on May 4th, no less than six months ago, I was advised by a guy from AppleCare, to get a complete, ‘clean re-install’. I said then I’d do it ‘next week’. It seemed OK next week, so I didn’t bother, pretending the problem had gone away.

During this same period, I’ve listened to the near euphoric accounts of the number of views Ministers have been notching up from their streaming of Sunday services. In many situations, although not all, euphoria has been replaced by realism, realism has been replaced by disappointment and now disappointment is being challenged by anxiety: ‘what if no one comes back’?

My question to anyone who’s willing to listen is the same I ask myself: where do I need to go deeper, even if that means impacting fewer?

In terms of my personal leadership, that’s meant intentionally cutting hours, reducing appointments, risking frustration from other people. In terms of challenging others, I’ve seen relief and release, almost as if people needed permission from someone else.

For church leaders the out-workings of such conversations has revolved around small groups. It’s been hard to penetrate the defence mechanisms many of us have been building for many years. We’ve invested a lot in gaining real ‘likes’, collected on the door after preaching on Sunday mornings or visiting over a cup of tea on a Thursday afternoon. It’s hard breaking the co-dependency between many a congregation and their Minister. There’s a powerful, collusive, bond between a congregation shaped by a consumerist culture and a Minister who’s keen to serve (and please?).

Nurturing small groups where we receive little feedback, equipping people to facilitate others, which don’t give us any credit, investing in other leaders, which is more likely to profile them, are all skills we weren’t trained for, or anticipated needing. But during the Covid-19 season, need them we do and so does the church.

As many people have commented, it was as if God pressed the ‘pause’ button back in March. I believe he’s now asking us to do what we can do: press ‘re-set’. If we truly believe we are called to make disciples, then maybe we will take time to slow down and observe how Jesus went about it. Mark 3 is a graphic reminder how Jesus more typically withdrew from the ‘crowd’ and opted to invest his best time and energy in twelve people through whom he changed the world.

 

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The Rule of Six and the Gift of God

This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two

The rule of six. Are we being offered a gift or is our activity simply being constrained?

I am a bit of a weirdo when it comes to number patterns, I kept daily stats on my computer throughout lockdown, and I’d already been having conversations with whoever would listen, about multiplying small groups and how six seemed an ideal number on Zoom, even before social gatherings of more than six people became prohibited by law.

Physical or virtual, the UK church can maintain a focus on the seed of the word of God taking root and flourishing in the lives of a growing number of people, even and especially in these times. Whether you’re a church leader of many years’ experience or a day one follower of Jesus Christ, we all have a part to play and some responsibility to take.

Step one: Determine to be shaped by faith, not by fear. It’s a heart thing. The virus is revealing the object(s) of our passion. If we over focus on our circumstances, whether good or ill, our relationship with God and the character of God will become blurred.  The virus has brought into focus the reality of the spiritual health of the UK church. I wonder what you’re seeing as a result. At the end of the day the ‘church’ is made up of individual followers of Jesus, we are the ‘living stones’ being built together. Let none of us be under any illusion; we are all a part of both the problem and the solution.

Step two. Pay attention to the core spiritual disciplines. ‘You can trust the word of God and you can trust the Spirit of God’. That’s the mantra I keep repeating to groups, especially those starting or leading them, when they get concerned about the shape not looking like their traditional Bible study. My counter-question: ‘how have people’s lives been shaped to become more like Jesus by how you’ve previously operated?’ tends to make the point.

Alan Hirsch highlights five things as ‘core spiritual disciplines’ in “Forgotten Ways” (is the virus revealing what we’ve forgotten?):

  • Engagement with Scripture
  • Prayer
  • Worship and service
  • Stewardship
  • Community

I’ve been a Baptist Minister for thirty-four years now, which means I’ve been a regional Minister longer than a local Minister. Consequently:

  • I’ve come to see our main Sunday gathering more through the eyes of a member of the congregation than as a provider/leader
  • I’ve not been reliant on whatever my local church serves up on a Sunday morning, to sustain me.

I realise I have a myriad of opportunities to engage with other Christians every day, which help me deepen the roots of my faith and relationship with God, which is both unusual and an immensely enriching privilege. However, lockdown brought no new challenges to my growth as a disciple, because I have been in the habit for many years of taking responsibility for my own life in God. Sadly, the virus has revealed a large slice of the UK church have become reliant on someone else opening up their Bible for them.

For anyone who’s not aware, we’ve developed The Discipleship Cycle as a mechanism to help individuals engage with God’s purposes through their lives by engaging with scripture. The app will be released in the new year, so watch this space.

Step three. ‘Do not give up the habit of meeting with one another, as some are in the habit of doing’. My hunch is, when the writer to the Hebrews first penned these words, our small group was more what would be brought to mind, than the typical Sunday gathering I attended pre-March 2020.

For me, our small group has been the most significant source of spiritual encouragement and rootedness out of anything, since the pandemic hit our shores. At no point over the last twenty years have I succumbed to the temptation to believe I can do this alone.

If I’m tempted to despair, it’s when listening to the desperation in people’s voices to return to meeting as they once did. Please don’t mishear me; I’ve no issue with meeting on a Sunday. I love being a part of the large gathering, vibrant worship, big-scale encounter experience. Yet I have to say honestly, being part of a small group enables and nurtures life in God, in reality, day-to-day, more than anything.

If you’re in a position of leadership my plea would be: maintain your focus on making and growing disciples, but think smaller not larger, for your delivery slots. If you don’t have any formal leadership responsibility my plea would be: ask to join with a few others to engage with scripture together and pray the life of God into one another. If you can’t find a group to join, start one.

The rule of six is a gift.

 

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Never Waste A Crisis

This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two

‘Never waste a crisis’, a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, is something I’ve heard a few times in recent months. Listening for the voice of the Spirit amidst the myriad of voices clamouring for our attention in the midst of the pandemic, has not always been easy.

What has the virus revealed about who and where we are? Once into lockdown, ‘what is the virus revealing?’ became a key question, both for myself and in relationship with others.

However, we’re now in another phase. Restrictions are easing, mobility (hurry?) is returning … to ‘normal’/’new normal’/????  If we did not spot what the virus was revealing about ourselves and about God during lockdown, we shall return to whatever shape and model of new normal is determined by the pre-dominant cultural tides of our day.

A model from organisations involved with disaster relief provided a helpful understanding in those initial manic two weeks. It highlights what we now recognise, but were then unaware of; there are phases, periods of time, and we need to match our responses and actions appropriately. Response, recovery and reconstruction were the three phases highlighted and it’s a helpful framework to work with … provided our responses and actions are in relation to the right crisis.

Pre lockdown we had begun to talk about a crisis in leadership, discipleship and mission. This is something bigger and wider than Baptists in the UK, but we are far from immune as churches. The virus has revealed more acutely, the extent to which this is apparent. NB the virus has not created these elements of crisis, but merely revealed what was already there.

What this means for me, both as an individual follower of Jesus with personal responsibilities and as a Christian leader with wider responsibilities, is if I simply move into a phase of ‘recovery’ without having examined the foundations, I am increasing the risk of the whole building falling down. We must not invest in the future, without being clear what we’re building on today has sufficient foundations.

I want to highlight two elements of this, namely, the Church and the Bible.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I hope you are committed to the Church of Jesus Christ. There was a time it would not have been necessary to say that, but these uncertain times don’t solely relate to a global pandemic. Frankly, there’s been too much negative energy expended and too many negative words spoken against forms and experiences of church, which suggest we can by-pass and ignore not simply two thousand years of church history, but also the bride of Christ:

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.                                         (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Anyone who suggests the church is finished, when Jesus himself clearly still has plan A very much in focus, reveals the extent to which our biblical foundations have been shaken by the cultural tsunami of post-modernity. In practice, the small group of which I am a member has been much more significant for me than the Sunday worship gatherings (NB. plural – after all, we can think we are a part of practically any one local church, anywhere in the world). In my life, that’s nothing new, as I’ve lived for the last twenty years without being in the same place every Sunday, due to having an itinerant preaching ministry.

The question we should have been asking (pre-pandemic) is: how does belonging to this church empower everyone identifying with it, to grow as a disciple of Jesus?

Our problem has been highlighted. The virus has revealed too frequently this is far from the reality. Therefore, to ‘recover’ where we were in February 2020, is not my focus.

I’ve lost count of the number of conversations over recent years, about the extent of biblical illiteracy among Christians in the western world. However, the virus has revealed in three months what survey after survey, has merely indicated. What percentage of Christians don’t open their Bibles for themselves between Sunday gatherings? I’ve no idea, but it appears to be way too high from what I’ve seen and heard. It’s not surprising therefore, there is a new rising tide of what we used to call ‘liberalism’, but naively thought had disappeared.

As Seventy-two we’ve not been inactive during lockdown. Some of you are already finding the Discipleship Cycle a useful framework to help listen to God through scripture. In relation to the Bible we also believe Jesus is sticking to Plan A:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3: 16)

If we are committed to doing what we can (and we are) to nurture an environment for missional movement, then covenant faithfulness and biblical obedience remain non-negotiables.

Seventy-two is nudging towards releasing an App to enable more and more people who don’t habitually open the Bible for themselves, to not only do so, but to hear God speaking to them through scripture in the regular, everyday rhythms of life. If you would like to be involved in piloting the field-testing the App then please get in touch with us.

 

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Pursuing The Mission Of God

This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two

I’m hugely impressed by the rapid responses so many individuals and churches have already made, since the escalation of the impact of coronavirus. We talk a lot about innovation and adaptation during Re:Imagine and as one leader said to me last week, following the launch weekend for another group of churches in our region, ‘last week we were recognising we needed to re-imagine, this week we’re doing it’.

The story of the people of God is one of thriving in adverse circumstances. The majority of the Bible was first written out of contexts of adversity or persecution. Truth is; it has never been easy, but the UK Church may have been tempted by the lure of the cultural tides of post-modernity into beginning to think it should be. That was two weeks ago.

Asking the right questions is vitally important, I’m sure you’ll agree, as those pursuing the adventure of the mission of God wherever he’s placed us. One of the biggest questions is ‘what is God saying’? Listening to God, first and foremost, is critical for us all in taking our next step in pursuing the mission of God. It remains critical, whatever our circumstances.  A friend of mine has just  told me of a conversation she’d had when out walking with her husband, which another lady began: ‘I’m not a religious person, but don’t you think God is trying to tell us something about what our priorities really need to be’? I’m noticing that more of those ‘not-religious’ are asking our questions, aren’t you?

As someone already convinced I need to be more engaged with people who are a long way from the kingdom of God (my perspective), I’m wanting to lean into God’s purposes for and through my life. This season, however long it lasts, will end. We shall survive. Rather than re-imaging how we’d love things to become, let’s grasp the opportunities as God brings them to our awareness to be the change now.

My daily practice is to give a few minutes to listening to whatever God might be saying to me. The most consistent and reliable mechanism I have to hear him is the Bible, God’s word.

If you’re not already making regular use of the Discipleship Cycle, please take a look and try it. We’re in the process of developing an App to make working round it even easier for everyone, so please pray for this – that it might happen and become a widely used tool, which is a source of blessing.

This week we’re starting a passage for the week – you’re welcome to use it in addition to your regular readings, or to use the Discipleship Cycle with those.

You may also want to grasp the opportunities of more regular contact, albeit virtual, which others can bring, and use the Discipleship Cycle with a small group, so do feel free to share it.

 

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